Portable Cultures/Traveling Bodies: The Floating Archive in an Age of Digital Redistribution

As the political and economic fallout of debates around climate change divide national legislatures and international bodies island nations do not have the luxury of waiting to see who gets to be right. Digital technologies, the internet in particular, provide both means and medium for preserving and regenerating cultural heritage, e.g. language acquisition, visualizing cultural artefacts and art forms, and storing encyclopedic knowledge. Digital archiving in libraries, museums, art galleries and other public institutions in the internet’s heartlands are big business and labours of love whilst the many uses of simple internet access, mobile phones and nowadays social media for island peoples and their diasporas date from the early days of the internet. These online traversals are integral to the larger global online archive that is the web, as we know it, even as the digital footprints non-western peoples leave online remain relatively under-estimated. Both accidental and engineered archives work with the hardware and software of the day. But what about in the future? For island nations, like the Maldives, as rising sea levels already pose a threat to the economy, traditional ways of life, and physical homeland, the solution that (cloud) computing offers is a compelling one. For a legacy project on this scale however, the techno-economic and cultural politics of content selection, technical sustainability, terms of access and use, and location for this floating digital archive can overlook the fact that like the planet, like culture itself, technologies are also in flux.

The presentation, with visual help from Jochen Jacoby (www.jacarte.de), will be in the form of a speculative Wikipedia page for considering some of the “unavoidable truths” that murmur between the lines of this agenda. Themes under consideration, open to audience input, include: offline/online traversals, reimagined communities, enhanced embodiments, homeland and diaspora after the internet, 3-D cultures, the accidental archive and geopolitics of data-storage.