Steal from Work

I recently listened to Jason Scott‘s “Now and Then, Here and There” talk for the Eleventh Hope (Hackers on Planet Earth) Conference. Jason is a free-range archivist working at the Internet Archive. His work with browser-based software emulation over the last few years has been amazing, not to mention his ongoing work since 2009 as a member of the Archive Team—the folks who saved Geocities.

Anyway, during his recent talk he has a great bit about why people should “steal from work.” It starts at about 25:30 and lasts a couple of minutes and he makes the point that history has shown stuff does not so much get archived institutionally (as I was bemoaning in regards to the New Media Consortium recently) but rather in the attic of the one-off closet archivist. He tells the story that Atari’s prototype artwork for their classic video games was not saved by the company, but rather by someone who bought two filing cabinets from Atari that happened to be filled with these historical documents. Companies, educational institutions, non-profits, etc., change leadership, personnel, direction, etc., and as a result stuff gets lost, forgotten, and discarded. Some of this is inevitable, but at the same time it is made worse by the prevailing logic that this is not our work—and by taking it and archiving it we are somehow stealing it. This is often true based on out warped ideas of intellectual property, a mindset that continues to impoverish the critical history of our culture.

if you’ve worked at one institution for any significant amount of time it’s fairly easy to see the value of the “steal from work” mantra. What’s been different in regards to my work at UMW for a decade was that I made the choice to openly narrative, document, and archive just about everything I did for UMW on my own domain, and it may have been the single best professional and personal decision I’ve ever made. I was “stealing” back the way we should work. I understand this is not possible in many scenarios for all sorts of reasons, but it will be interesting to see how much of institutional history we begin to get from self-hosted blogs, websites, archives, etc., in the not-too-distant future. There is a vast history of teaching and learning across thousands of universities that took place beyond the campus network that sits on servers at blogger,, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. It would be an interesting archive project to try and preserve the history of teaching and learning during the age of social media. In many ways, that is what UMW Blogs represents for me when I think about it. An ongoing historical record of a new way of thinking about teaching and learning online.

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3 Responses to Steal from Work

  1. MBS says:

    This reminds me of the Betamax guy Videoholic who’s been putting up personal archives on Youtube. The TV and VCR (RIP analog video) gave us all access to the network’s offices and where they long ago had discarded the tapes which had come from ad agencies that had produced all the commercials.

    I worry though that these Youtube and Flickr hosted personal archives of copyrighted materials will not last. Corporations can be fickle and terms of service can change. I know a certain someone that got banned for disobeying the Content ID machine that said he didn’t own the videos he was posting. Good thing he kept backups. 😉

  2. Tom says:

    Gardner was trying to get all of rampages put on just prior to the shift. It fell victim to our subsequent spending freeze.

    It’s an interesting idea that the org/people doing the thing don’t value it in the moment or don’t have the time/energy/interest.

    If you’re going to do it . . . sticking it in another questionable place (flickr, youtube etc.) doesn’t make sense.

  3. Reverend says:

    I agree sticking it in another social silo may be an issue, but I still like them there, and ideally I want both. The simple idea of having something in my own storage space, but then also on Vimeo, Flickr, etc. to be shared with whomever is fine with me, I just have to avoid making a habit of the latter at the expense of the former. Something I have been fairly good at, if not somewhat inconsistent.

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