Catalogues and Collections, part 2

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Things magazine is always looking, but the sad reality is that if it’s not on the internet it doesn’t exist for us. And that’s a problem. Our own archives are a case in point; until we get our house in order and bring the back issues into the digital realm, they’re just blank indexes, as useless as a card index without a physical library. This post is a belated follow-up post of sorts to Catalogues and Collections, a musing on whether the internet was ‘a city or a museum.’ Our instinct guides us to the latter definition, although we know that the urban metaphor is far more exciting and dynamic, especially in this era of clouds and clusters, distributed computing, personal networks, off-site data, cross platform synchronisation, dissipated data and the ongoing diaspora of the object into the digital bit.

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The world wide wunderkammer keeps a million stories in its many-drawered facade. But the web has also made collections a public activity, rather than a private one, a return to the heyday of the philanthropic domestic museum. The new acts of personal curatorship are multiplied a thousand times over, and the only architecture needed to house the collections are the mundane bits of code that form the source of every website. Our predilection for weblogs that construct larger narratives from links, like Wilkmanshire takes the right approach, over those that isolate and scrutinize each individual destination.

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There’s also a minor key to the notion of a vast, interlinked but never-ending collection. The collector is striving for the impossible but also the inevitable – that the collection will never be finished and will eventually consume you, perhaps even literally as its components tumble from overstuffed shelves, blocks access to doors and rooms and chokes you out of your living space. The internet serves to reinforce this sense of futility; nothing will ever be comprehensive, ever again. Just as there exists the cliched architectural paradox of the library that is never big enough to contain the deluge of books. And just as in real life as online, we are in danger of focusing on the vessel not the contents, leaving the ideal of completeness as fantasy.

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‘There is a risk that every extra effort put into building up archives – however important their potential contents – is one less effort made to construct what may one day fill it’, novelist Vincenzo Latronico in Domus 937, June 2010. We’ve no idea why the image above should be of Cloud City.

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