we have begun to consider whether some activist-produced materials might need to be strategically ephemeral, or be allowed to “disappear”/be forgotten/drop out of public circulation. If this is the case, we have started, in consultation with groups whose materials we hope to archive, to think about whether the content producers of such materials might be politically contravened by the permanent placement of their materials in the Sex Work Database (Ferris and Allard, 2016: p. 197).
Today via Stereogum, I found out that Myspace has confirmed the loss of 50 million songs that were uploaded to it’s music player due to an error that occurred during server migrations. The materials affected have been confirmed as lost, and I have since seen reverberations of feelings travel through my personal social media networks. Most people around my age (32) probably grew up in the Myspace age, and probably anyone who was creative at that time also uploaded embarrassing teenage music demos as well as selfies and star backgrounds. I think I deleted my myspace profile years ago, but occasionally I nostalgically logged in to check on my old band’s profile. Myspace was a platform I couldn’t disconnect from my teenage self, so like most people I know, I’m half relieved and half sad that all that music is gone.
For me, the responses to Myspace’s loss raise questions about what records are “good” and “bad”. I cringe a lot when I think about the way I behaved on the internet in my teenage years, but there’s no denying that the songs I wrote about crushes and depression and not being understood in my small town are a method of and record of some of my earliest DIY cultural production (via home recordings on my desktop computer). I don’t have those recordings anymore, they too were long lost on another hard drive also lost in computer upgrades and laptop malfunctions.
The question I’ve asked myself is, would I keep those songs given the choice? What does it mean when the choice is taken away before we’ve had a chance to think about this? I’m not sure I would, but I would definitely keep the music of others in the same subcultural pockets. Or maybe I would, because those were the records of my first attempts at amateur creative practice. Are the archival traces of our shambolic first projects any less valid as records then us at our best? Do we want some traces to disappear?
I’ve been reading about digital activist archives in the last week for another project, and in that context I’ve come across the phrase strategic ephemerality in an article about the development of online archives for marginalised communities by Shawna Ferris and Danielle Allard. They write:
This is a completely different context, but sometimes our music spaces and subcultures are dangerous too. Research I’ve previous undertaken about the archiving of queer zines (Fife, forthcoming) and other work into the digitisation of feminist archives (Eichhorn, 2014) has shown that mass digitisation and open access to these materials (as sought after by the information sector) may contravene the originating contexts in which records are produced (“safe spaces” or distribution via controlled methods within a small community). Permanent (or close to permanent) preservation and open access as considered to be a common goal in the archive sector, but what if what we do is ephemeral, even our archival traces?
DeVille, C., 2019. Myspace Confirms Loss Of 50 Million Songs Uploaded Between 2003 And 2015. Stereogum.
Eichhorn, K., 2014. Beyond digitisation: a case study of three contemporary feminist collections. Archives and Manuscripts 42, 227–237. https://doi.org/10.1080/01576895.2014.958866
Ferris, S., Allard, D., 2016. Tagging for activist ends and strategic ephemerality: creating the Sex Work Database as an activist digital archive. Feminist Media Studies 16, 189–204. https://doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2015.1118396
Fife, K., 2019. Not for you? Ethical implications of archiving self-publishing. Punk and Post-Punk Journal.
Pearson, J., 2019. MySpace Lost 12 Years of Music in “Server Migration” [WWW Document]. Motherboard. URL https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/nexyn8/myspace-lost-12-years-of-music-in-server-migration (accessed 3.19.19).