An interview of Cory Doctorow by David Weinberger. Fascinating stuff about metadata, and the differences between implicit and explicit data, along with the political-cultural constructs in play around classification systems.
I wonder, sometimes, about going off and getting a librarianship or curatorial qualification. I am most certainly one of those people who likes sorting - systematising, tidying, classifying and arranging is something I find incredibly soothing. I have a feeling it's incredily hardwired in to me; back in my wild art student days there was a wonderful incident with some hallucinogens and waking up to discover my room ordered to the Nth degree - even my cupboard shelf contents were tidied, rectinlinearly stacked in size order. Others get messy on drugs, I get tidy. But I digress.
I've written bits and bobs about tax- and folks- onomies before here; I don't have the energy for a retread this evening; frankly, reading the transcript of the interview will tell you everything I've said and more, with greater clarity and intellectual rigour. It's worth reading or listening to.
One interesting point made is about flickr, and the huge mass of CC-licensed photos available on the web:-
If you're a stock photographer trying to sell photos of Capri, even if it can be found, you're probably screwed at Flickr because there's 100, 000 of them there available for free--unlicensed, actually, Creative Commons licensed--yours is going to have to be pretty darn good for somebody to actually shell out money for it.
The interview goes on to talk about copyright, and elision of cultural and commercial constraints in copyright law. The ususal.
But... what does it really mean that there's so much available for free, now? Is the bespoke the final recourse of arts, now? If everyone can micro-produce and micro-sell, what happens to the 'great work' - does it become more valuable, have more of an aura?
In a fully described world, where the overlay of discussion and culture is captured in searchable, semi-machine readable electronic forms, where the map and the territory are completely blurred... what does a creative person do? When there can be no 'underground', no hidden pockets of creative collaboration left to diversify in obscurity, away from the wider culture, do we end up with ... less creative speciation? Or radical, precambrian explosions of diversity?
Flickr is always a good example; it made me want to photograph more, initially, but now makes me not want to photograph at all, because anything I capture will be so like so many other pictures. Interestingness is rarely that; it's more frequently inoffensively pretty and technically pristine; a kind of mass idea of what a good photograph might be, smoothed out by the gentle erosion of traffic flow across the site. It feels a bit like Clement Greenberg's idea of kitsch; it seems to point out that originality is nearly impossible to achieve.
I'm not sure where I'm going with this thought. I think I'm interested to understand what it means to be trying to create something unique in a world where everything-there-is is instantly available and addressable, and any new creation is instantly contextualised by being indexed as 'a bit like this, and this other thing, and maybe 30% similarity to this other thing here'. What gets made? The things that spring to mind are the great renaissance works, painted for super-rich patrons, and elaborately personally codified; the language of art history becoming more obscure and arcane, and personalised to the patron. Commissioning something, collaborating, and encoding undisclosed ideas into the work becomes a way of opposing the same-ness of originality. Or does creativity become private again; something jealously held away from the systematizing gaze of the web? Or do objects become valuable purely because of personal significances - does taste die?
How do we preserve surprise, and grit, and significance? And are these valuable things, or am I pining for mirages?