May 18, 2012

Fingering at the Margins

What is the value of digitizing as much printed matter as possible? What comes from our desire to archive? A few days ago, I asked about quick and easy internet access to the periodicals of the past. Such materials, prior to Google Books, could be found in libraries and physical archives. They lived on shelves, perhaps already technologically preserved as microfilm or microfiche.

Clearly we possess a (cultural-technological-socio-political) somehow deeply rooted desire to preserve the past, as evidence of something. But all desires must be checked. Enacting a desire holds the potential to bring about pleasure, and unintentional harm.

We want access to the past. But Google is not magic. I started to think about this in a very peripheral way at school, just over a year ago. The university I attend decided to participate in the Google Books digitization project. A librarian informed me they were shipping a million articles - books, magazines, papers, photos - to Google headquarters. I thought briefly about this shipping process, and the librarians and interns and trucks and boxes involved. I had a tiny piece of information that allowed me to think about this. But still, I did not think about one other major piece of this process, the part that takes place on the other end of the shipping. I allowed myself to just believe in the magic of technology, and it's great promises. I didn't ask any more questions.

I recently discovered a major missing piece. I came across it just days after asking, here on the blog, some questions about the purpose of digitized media of the past. I found this short video, titled Workers Leaving the GooglePlex by Andrew Norman Wilson. It is a monotonous video of workers coming and going from various Google buildings. Most of the content comes from the voice-over narration.

Wilson says this about the video:
Workers Leaving the GooglePlex investigates a top secret, marginalized class of workers at Google’s international corporate headquarters in Silicon Valley. As I documented the yellow badged book-scanning “ScanOps” Google Books workers, I simultaneously chronicled the complex events surrounding my own dismissal from the company. The reference to the Lumiere Brother’s 1895 film Workers Leaving the Factory situates the video within the history of motion pictures, suggesting both transformations and continuities in arrangements of labor, capital, media, and information.






I browsed the portfolio of Mr. Wilson, and found another project based on the ScanOps workers. This collection of still images is described as follows:
ScanOps is (or was) the internal department name for Google’s onsite book scanning contractors.
This new body of work is based on Google Books images in which software distortions, the imaging site, and the hands of ScanOps employees are visible.

These images, for me, speak much more effectively to the range of questions evoked by the (raced and classed) labor of digitizing books. This material process, based on particular values and desires, also creates unintentionally beautiful images. Often, these "mistake" scans show a finger or a hand, wearing little colorful finger covers. These are a few of my favorites. See many, many more on Andrew Norman Wilson's portfolio site.


The Inland Printer – 164


Wohlgemeynte Gedanken über den Dannemar – 113


The Encyclopedia Americana – 879

 
The Coal Tar Colors – 183


The Inland Printer – 152


Wealth of Nations – 4


Finger Ring Lore – 602


Our Wonderful Progress – 515


A funny thing: In the day and a half I've had this post sitting in my drafts waiting to finalize it, a friend shared (on facebook) a buzzfeed article featuring the same images that went up a few hours ago today. Oh, internet.

2 comments:

sewa mobil jakarta said...

Very nice, thanks for sharing.

eri said...

This is incredibly interesting!

I am the library field and this issue of digitization is of course a huge topic. I too have major concerns regarding the ongoing trend to turn everything into an electronic resource. Not to mention turning so many resources over to the hands of Google. I also find it disconcerting that there seem to be so few people questioning the power currently being given to a singular company.

Still, it is complicated because as a librarian I am also an advocate for accessibility of information. There is certainly no easy answer, but thank you for sharing this video.