Yesterday’s post sparked a bit of debate about content creation, consumption and the nature of making links, copying, pasting and imitating. Yesterday’s minor flurry of interest in Memepool ably illustrates the evolution of the weblog from tempting textual wonderland into the contemporary image-saturated tumble of things that may or may not be connected. The former acted as a kind of dynamic collection of footnotes, a format that relied on making connections, the lure of language and the semantics that underpinned the internet. Now, semantics has been stripped away in favour of surface veneer, a lack of depth we previously observed in relation to the then novel approach of ffffound!, now seen in a million tumblrs around the world (including probably our own).
One lesson to take away from all this is that content without context is still strangely compelling – addictive, even – but it’s the high fructose corn syrup of making stuff; it leaves you hungry for more and doesn’t really nourish. A site like The Optimist (picked at random from a potentially huge list) is ultimately about visual curation. There are some amazing images on display, but most are adrift from their source. History therefore becomes divorced from meaning. It’s obviously not possible to bolster every clipped picture with a full account of what it is and where it comes from (and we are guilty of this too), but given that the role of the footnote is ultimately to send you off in search of supporting information, all too often the unattributed image is a dead end, a full stop without a path to follow. As a publication with strong sympathies towards the discipline of history, we can’t help but feel that these cul-de-sacs are ultimately a waste of potential. It is cartography without a key; beautiful but not a tool with which to navigate.