The Scream Auction at Sothebys becomes an Artefact on YouTube Forever?

But who will preserve the moment on Youtube of History in the Making and will it exist in 100 years ?

Recently in case you had not heard (pardon the pun) The Scream (the last version in private hands) was auctioned at Sotheybys for 107m dollars. This sale  was arguably history in the making having beaten the equally obscene amount of $106 million dollars for a Picasso. The entire 12 minutes captured in a YouTube Video. This wasn’t an oil painting but pastel on board, there are other versions of the same work, so it is not unique. It is a powerful and disturbing image not one you can imagine having on your lounge wall. What price is an artwork worth, what is the owner really buying, it’s premium even today is astounding. What does this moment captured on video say about our world, art and society in a historical perspective? This short video as an artefact can spark a million discussions about the significance of the event it records.

That led us to a concern we think we all have What will happen to the masses of home made media enabled by the smartphone, how where and what should we be preserving, right now or has this already escalated beyond our reasonable control?

Take a look at this video, everyone is a journalist, the power of the smartphone as part of the digital curators toolkit is pretty impressive. Are you capturing your own digital archives? How long will YouTube keep your videos online , your ‘big moments’ digitally captured?

How will we all archive our history in the making for a hundred years time and what are the dangers of bias in self-selecting archives…I wonder.

  • Huge companies come and go in history. Can you imagine in 20, 50 or 100 years what will have happened to Google and the YouTube Archives, iTunes, Google Drive, IBM and of course Facebook? The UK Web Archive project is addressing websites but how will we archive all this video? What happens when the founders leave, when the generations change and the original families no longer control the stock. Plenty of examples exist, Google and Facebook founders have ensured that investors in their IPOs (Initial Public Offering) can only get non-voting stock, but after they are gone who is to say the founding principles will remain and resources be committed to expensive long-term digital storage? Will your flickr or Picasa backups of your family photographs be retained in 50 years time and do you want them to be?
  • Specific to family history will your Family History tool provider and repository even exist in 50 years time? How will you protect your family history from the fluctuations in financial fortunes that Ancestry MyHeritage and FindMyPast and more may experience in the future. What happens to their data if for some unexplained reason they go out of business? You don’t want to believe that could happen, remember that is what they said about the Titanic, it could happen. In this recession some mighty companies and financial institutions, built on bricks and mortar have ceased to exist.
  • It maybe less than 1% that will be significant for the future of all our data but how will we and the generations to come know  what to preserve? What will be useful and relevant , will we be able predict what is most significant? Probably not as soon as we start to curate we begin to bias what can be gleaned in the future. Family History has shown that the small scale of history often ignites a more direct connection with the bigger picture but we need the personal family and individual data too. It can’t all be trended with hash tags (# markers for special words on social media denoting topics of interest across the networks, synaptic points of connection) Hmmmn will Hash tags become artefacts…
  • Do we know history only by some accident of fate, by a random selection of which illuminated manuscripts survived the burning of countless historical documents, the judicious shredding of paper by paranoid politicians…why do people commit sensitive information, easily copied and published worldwide to email did they simply forget?
  • Magnetic bits and bytes make so much accessible to us, as with the Google Art Project, Artfinder and BBC PCF Your Paintings to name just a few. Enabling us  to see ‘virtually up-close’ and not obscured by the shoulders of the jostling crowd, or unfashionable works kept long term storage that tell the narrative of our history. It’s got to be a richer world when millions can at least glimpse the beauty of these works and read and see the transcriptions and originals of the Guttenberg Bible, Charles Dicken’s manuscripts, the archive of Nelson Mandella, but what happens if the music stops…what happens if the doors to the data become closed.
  • Flickr, Facebook, YouTube ,Itunes Cloud storage , Google+ and Microsoft  such a rich set of resources but will we become falsely secure believing this will go on forever.  It might be better if some of the drivel on the social networks does get lost? But the colour and fabric of our lives as they really were rather than as the curated and carefully preserved museum collections would be lost forever.
  • Transience is part of the digital mind-set, our throw-away society maybe is being saved however by the need to improve and protect the planet and stop killing trees for paper. Whilst we revel in the archiving and ability to share and collaborate on projects now, I do wonder what will happen and how in this quagmire of home-made media we will do to preserve our archives if something unexpected happens. How will anyone decide and save not just the momentous bits but the parts that tell the story of ordinary lives, the momentous stuff, will remain the preserve of the professional digital curators.
  • Threat of digital official documents what will be the digital archives of the future? We can quite easily, through a documented and evidenced trail work out immediate family history (back say 200 years or more.) Now because of offficial documents going online not just the BDM and Census but even tax records that were  previously written and recorded on documents by hand. Now VAT and Tax returns are online, the cost of census is disputed as a valuable service to government and society, who will store the archives needed for tomorrow.
  • Recent Google TV and online ads even promote the documenting of a young life from before birth on email, its a nice idea but how will you know it will be there for that child in 50 years time…We can’t know that whether Google will even still exist in 20 years time. That might seem improbable now but go back 50 years how many companies survived half a century or more. Some companies do but not that many and would you risk the history of your families future on a maybe…
These musing started from the posting of a short video that documents the sale of a record priced artwork, Much has been written about it and the mystery buyer will at some point be revealed maybe? It has provoked us to consider an ongoing theme ‘How can we secure our digital data ‘ not just for privacy (although that’s a double-edged sword) but if you want to create an archive that your next generation may or may not be interested in and will need access to .
  • In articles about how to use IT for you and your history project we will explore how best this can be done from a range of the cloud and web based services we all use, that are great fantastic and often free to use. You may document your life and automate a timeline but even if the company exists in x years time if we dont leave our passwords with the understandable concerns about privacy who could even access your data  unless it was already published?
  • These fabulous resources are growing all the time in capability, capacity and speed.  We should all use them and embrace them but with one-eye on how do we help the generations in your family tree to find the terabytes of data, just magnetic bits and bytes, that are the  outcome of your own historic research together with your archives of life as it happens now…
  • The Guild of One Name studies, the Society of Genalogists, and many more want to help preserve these resources but they will be overwhelmed with data. Backups are fine if they are in a data format you can exchange, decode and retain the attached files documents,pictures, videos offline on a reliable media of good quality, not just a hard disk but DVDs as well! Backups in just a particular format that needs the specific vendors tools to decode and recover are not.
Let’s find a way to share and collaborate and leverage the power of the tool kit available on the net, we all know it is brilliant but make sure you have a road back and a way forward with your digital archives…Even knowing your own archives catalogue is a challenge.  So we are going to try to map out a way to keep all your data safe and in way that is not a nightmare to operate and retain for now and for the unepxected change or event in the future.
Now there is a beacon of light…open systems, open data,open archives. Open standards have existed for ages and in academic work you will see a growing clamour for opening all data. The Welcome Foundation has recently made it a condition of funding for projects it supports that project papers and research findings must be made open access and public within a short time frame. It is a brave and enlightened step. So why do you care about the impact of this step? Because there are a range of technical approaches that will make your data much more transferable, easier to share and collaborate with when you want to and it is all about Open Data and Archives and database schema and file standards.
Good news is if we all get this right and start harnessing it for not only Family History by all knowledge it is quite likely the world will become a better place with more open data.
  • Serious data journalism that deal with facts and data is already leading the way.
  • There is an obvious area where open access can begin to help even with basic family history. It’s with open access to family tree data (excluding living relatives of course.) More of this soon but when a tree is public, it will help to improve the quality of family trees and mean that others can benefit and vice versa from our earnest endeavours and shared objectives to better understand who we are, where we came ,how the people that came before us shaped our genes and how that insight might further help inform and enlighten our future generations.
  • So we have got to make this manageable and possible. The future GEDCOMX et al and versions thereof derived from the version 5.5  the GEDCOM file format that underpins family history core records will be vital in this area and work is in hand on developing it but thats been happening for quite a while and it needs to speed up.  We all really need this standard to move forward and catch-up with the state of technology as the GEDCOM file format sadly lags behind current capabilities.
You can hear another artefact or two, talking about why Open Data is important in some related articles and catch-up our future posts about why how and when to create secure archives and shared data that will help us all take our projects forward. No one can know if the next generations will want to pursue and better understand what makes us all tick going forward but wouldn’t it be nice for them to have the chance and choice to do so if they wish?
  • With the decline of paper documents, the need to save trees, digital is here to stay, lets make sure we find a way to pass on and share our digital inheritance. Lots to share and discuss in the months to come, please feel free to comment and  on Facebook, here or any of the channels that suit you best, our digital doors  are always open!
  • You might like to also listen to the excellent Professor Nigel Shadbolt and Tim Berners Lee working as advisors to the UK government on open data  or visit the Guttenberg project set-up by the late Michael Stearn , a great example of an open resource.
  • There is of course another intriguing connection  a set of equal and opposing forces that can cause inertia. Is this set of forces an enabler or inhibitor to doing things the best way?  The protection of ideas, copyright and patents, original works and the protection and rewarding of earnest endeavours to innovate and create new ideas brought to productive fruition.
    • This drives the need for profit to fund such endeavours.
    • It is a legitimate need, finance funds all this technology and it costs a lot. Take a look at the impact of patents looking at the unique and very current legacy of Steve Jobs honoured in a new Smithsonian collection. How many penniless artists scientists and inventors could we sustain? Where would Steve Job’s eco system for Apple Developers have been if he could not protect his market?
So the challenge remains, Is there a better balance and way forward, that frees-up our data and lets it remain with the owner, is that you and me or does the vendor of Facebook also have a stake in our data? Both Google and Facebook provide free services to consumers so that they can leverage our data to target commercial propositions at us all, that is what the advertising. Facebook gets even closer by being able to aggregate and profile not just where we are and what we search on but what we like, dislike and a whole range of demographic data we impart when talking to our friends. Google+ is Google fighting it extend it’s data capture, Google Drive is so you will keep all your data with them and see their adverts. It is all connected and as a great guy from Guild of One Name Studies said about Google’s Drive terms, guess there is no such thing as a free lunch. Privacy and privilege go hand in hand we want to protect our privacy but we want and use a lot of free functions, as ever a compromise needs to be struck, let’s see if we can all help to make it better.
You may have heard of some collaborative terms that have become fashionable with the advent of more open and shared networks ‘crowdsourcing and crowdfunding’ for starters. It is an important development and is building on the great potential for a community across the net to accomplish large and complex projects where the work and/or funding for achieving an outcome is shared and so are the benefits of the outcome. This has huge potential in the field of not only history but many fields of knowledge. It has been proven to work, with large fields studies in the uk and internationally, the use of networks of pcs to complete complex scientific calculations and the resourcing of humanities led projects such as one lead by the British Library to  georeference old antique maps. Is there a way, in these cash strapped time that the power of many combined together across the family social and local history projects  can be leveraged to achieve some major archiving projects at least with a repository of tree data that is open sourced? Ancestors Now is an example of an enlightened approach we are watching it’s development carefully, it demonstrates how some of the new tree archiving and evidence based data models can improve the quality of the archives we can create for ourselves and the future.
Our data exists in some many formats how can we keep it all together secure and certain in the knowledge that it will not disappear overnight with a data or archive disaster. Digital make sense it can be stored in multiple places with relative ease, if the paper records get destroyed the risks are generally much less but keeping track, making sense of , cataloguing and curating as well as securing that data for the longer term in a form that will enable us all to achieve more needs some thinking about and co-ordinated action.
That is part of our mutual challenge how can we get the best balance for you and your digital data archives and online projects, watch this space if you would like to discuss how to create a better balance here now and for the future, let’s keep the doors OPEN.
With thanks to Bednor Grosvenor for his inspiring Art History News and all the other YouTubers who created their own capture of a major moment in the Art Business and the New York Times cited article on the sale of course to Edvard Munch who’s life was far from easy…his works can be found online and the Munch Museum dedicated to his work is in Oslo and finally a timeline of the history of Sothebys an intrinsic part of history and a business that has thrived long-term since it’s origins in 1744
PS: A long post and a lot of connected subjects, we will aim to explore and clarify and determine specific solutions in the coming few months and hope to hear from other groups and individuals interested in how the better balance might be achieved….


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