Thursday, January 12, 2012

On sharing

Hits on the blog since 2010. No need to alert Cory A. about the new post.

I miss the old Internet ways sometimes because things made more sense. Before the rise of DRM, streaming media, and "maintained identities," it was easier for us all to see that the underlying structure of the web was just files linking to other files. I remember wondering in the early 2000s if we would always have to download shared files and programs off of "ugly" hyperlinks, rather than being able to click through directly to the experience. Nevertheless, I was thankful that the links were there in the first place, so I could download that content for later use. I still have in my possession MIDIs and Pokemon GIFs I saved in 1999 from a few generous sprite-ripping websites (shut up, I was 10!).

Nowadays it can be easy to lose sight of that elegant simplicity because it's been so carefully disguised, for better and for worse. Not that the web isn't improved by the existence of streaming media and the magic of style sheets, but too much of the illusion causes us to forget what makes this mode of communication so great: sharing data.

The illusion of the web caught up to me several months ago, when I was going through a creative slump. At the tail end of the Rotors project, I was writing and thinking a lot about formal qualities of what I was calling "conglomerate" digital media, like websites (since in actuality websites are made of multiple files). I kept churning out rotors, but I felt like I was stagnating and I wasn't getting hardly any feedback from friends or acquaintances on the series. Why make net art if not for other people to look at it? I became concerned that I had chosen a format (HTML + CSS & JQuery) which, although web-native, was too "loaded" in its formal qualities to be approachable. I then began to try and evaluate other popular formats, such as files (GIFs, JPGs, HTML) in order to determine what might be a better direction for me to take.

This landed me in a huge mess, because once you start trying to figure out which formats are "relevant" and "valid," you will never escape. I stopped making sites, GIFs, everything. I went back to art history books and read abysmal histories. Then I just gave up and started playing Minecraft.

Attempt at irony, problematizing the game element.
Apparently I chose the right game for an art block. Have you seen what people build in there?! You might think an in-game computer built out of torches would be practical, but trust me, it's anything but. This got my brain going about "virtual media" - media contained within a specific digital context. For Minecraft, the medium would be the blocks that make up the world. For something like, the virtual medium would be the limits o the post format (x characters long, text and image files only of certain scales). You can even look at Facebook posts in this way. Was the difference between Facebook-based art (has a provided context) and my HTML experiments (context-free) what was keeping me from reaching people? Was I wrong to distrust a provided context? Is the lack of context what continues to doom physical presentation of digital files? I spent my time making concessions and their associated tumblr skins, only to hate them. I thought I was getting close, but something still felt wrong.

Finally, a late-night wander through some long-forgotten haunts on the web lifted the veil for me. The problem wasn't the context, the virtual medium or the validity of the format. In the end, it's all data. In the end, it's the sharing that counts. What you share goes before how you share it. I had to - have to - rethink what I'm sharing and why.  So I will.


  1. Someone should made a Minecraft version of a Paul Noble drawing:

  2. That Minecraft texture is fantastic.

  3. A little offtopic but do you play minecraft on any particular server? I lst interest a long time ago and I am looking for an excuse to get back into it.

    I love that texture pack. I need to start making my own. Is that for download anywhere?

    Also who cares what's valid, as long as you like it do things for yourself.... if that even makes sense in this context.