Archival Trouble

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About the Right of Being Online

Derrida was worried, back in 1996, about what could happen to his words once recorded and out of his grasp. His use of the ‘right of inspection’ to protect these recordings, nowadays seems to be transformed into the ‘right to be seen’: the younger generation that grew up with the online possibilities of the Internet does not share the Derridean worries regarding authorship and control but is rather concerned with not being seen enough, rather than too much. In this paper I will elaborate on how technological developments are changing human behavior concerning the recording, uploading, and distributing of audio-visual material. In other words, what happens to Derrida’s notion of the ‘right of inspection’ within the environment of Web 2.0?
In the first part of the paper Derrida’s ‘right of inspection’ is explained in relation to the concept of the archive. In the second part, two different databases, YouTube and the Tactical Media Files, are analyzed and discussed in relation to their archival qualities. In the third part it will be argued how the two case-studies relate to the Derridean body of thought and to what extent Web 2.0 can be considered as an improved archival machine: how would Derrida have perceived the contemporary Internet and in which way would it have changed his notion of the archival media and the politics behind it?

Part I- conceptualization

The archive
According to the online Merriam-Webster (2008), there are two ways of defining the archive; the first one refers to the place where public records or historical documents are preserved, and the second one refers to the archive as the preserved material itself: the archive is the building yet at the same time the material it encloses. In this paper, I wish to explore in which way the place of the archive influences its content and the way it is used.
Friedrich Kittler saw handwriting as the first trace of existence of the human body. The continuous flow of ink gave the alphabetic individual his appearance and exteriority’: ‘Primal orality or oral history are technological shadows of the apparatuses which they can document, only, however, after the end of the writing monopoly’ (Kittler 1987: 106). Though the writer had exchanged the private exteriority of his handwriting into the anonymous exteriority of print, the reader could reverse those exteriorizations by ‘unfolding these words in a visible world” (Kittler 1987: 108). According to Kittler, digital data-storage machines are taking over the optical and acoustical data-flow, and people no longer ‘need’ their memory. This is quite strongly put and one could say that storing, digitizing or representing data does not ‘replace’ our memory, but becomes an indistinguishable part of it. Our personal memories are indistinguishably intertwined with the collective memory: our personal archive is locked in with the collective archive. When personal memories get stored in public places, politics become important.
In Echographies of Television (1996) Derrida reflects on the archive with a strong political notion. This text is in fact a transcription of a –recorded- conversation between Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler on the topic of teletechnologies. They discuss and –at the same time- undergo the effects and consequences of recordings on the philosophical, political, and personal moment.
Derrida wants to raise awareness concerning the archive as never being a ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ collection of material but as constructed and formed by mainly three different kinds of choices. Firstly there is the choice of what is recorded and what is not, and how these recordings are manipulated (in time and place by editing techniques), secondly there is the choice of who decides which recordings should be preserved where, and thirdly, who has the right to access and inspect those archives.

It remains a question as to who, in the end, is authorized to appear [se montrer] but above all authorized to show [montrer], edit, store, interpret, and exploit images. It is a timeless question but it is taking on original dimensions today. (Derrida 1996: 34)

In this quote, Derrida refers not just to authority -as to the juridico-political -but also to the seeing, to vision, and to the capturing of images, and probably also to their reproductive nature. The archive is related to the notion of who has the right to preserve what, how, and for whom. Besides this, teletechnological archival techniques like video-cameras and broadcasting possibilities like the Internet are necessitating a new awareness of selectivity. An archive exists by privileging some matters over others. Archiving is like remembering, and remembrance is being ensued by forgetting; we need to choose what to remember, but at the same time, we ‘must awaken to critical vigilance with regard to the politics of memory: we must practice a politics of memory and, simultaneously, in the same movement, a critique of the politics of memory’ (Derrida 2008: 63). In relation to the practice and critique of these politics of memory it is important to realize who is in charge and decides what to remember and what to forget? Which social or political power is benefiting from this? Derrida is not the only one who argues that it is important to ‘educate and awaken ‘whomever’ to vigilance with regard to the politics of memory’ (Derrida 2008: 63). The historian Hayden White also addresses this kind of awareness in his work and elaborates on historical consciousness.

History as Artifact
Hayden White argues in The Historical Text as Literary Artifact  (1978) that not just memories or archived memories are under the influence of powers of construction but also that historical narration has a stronger connection to fiction than is usually assumed. His argument that ‘verbal fictions, the contents of which are as much invented as found and the forms of which have more in common with their counterparts in literature than they have with those in the sciences’ (White 1978: 82) was not appreciated by all historians of his time. The conflation of fact and fantasy must have offended those who see a radical opposition between fiction and history but nowadays this notion is more accepted. Derrida works as well with this notion of construction of narration in his arguments about the new archiving machines and the media literacy we need to obtain. He argues that a past is not ‘simply recorded’ but rather is ‘constituted’:

…the archive doesn’t simply record the past. It also, of course, constitutes the past, and in view with a future which retrospectively, or retroactively, gives it its so-called final truth. (Derrida 1998: 42)

In order to be able to recognize the constructions of this constitution of the past, a critical culture and a kind of education appropriate for teletechnologies, needs to be developed. White on the other hand wants to focus our attention on the way historians shape their narrations, consciously or unconsciously. In this process, he distinguishes three different kinds of preferences: ideology (this is the historian’s point of view: anarchist, conservative, liberal or radical), argument or explanation (how are the discrete entities related?), and emplotment (this is the literary genre to which the story belongs: romance, tragedy, comedy, satire). White argues that any of these modes of emplotment can be combined with any of the modes of argument and any of the modes of ideology (White 1978). Therefore, tags like ‘the best’ or ‘the most authentic’ recollection of a past event are invalid. There are only points of view and no single mode has a closer relation to reality than any other. An event can be narrated as a tragedy, satire or romance but neither of these readings can be considered the most authentic. According to White, a good historian should remind his readers of the purely provisional nature of this characterization of events. In the case of Derrida’s telematic machines, it is not the role of the ‘author’ or ‘producer’ to remind the audience of the ‘artifactuality’ of the product, but it is the task of the audience or society to take a more active part in its construction and deconstruction: just like they are used to do with alphabetic writing.
Like Kittler, Stiegler compares alphabetic writing with film and television and points out that it is impossible to read without being able to write. For technical reasons and lack of skills, it is hard for the addressee to ‘reply’ to the overload of teletechnological messages and information. But, over the past 10 years – and due to technical development of audio-visual machines – teletechnologies like home computers, mobile phones, consumer cam-recorders, digital cameras web-cams, and the Internet have become easier to operate and cheaper to purchase and therefore the industrial opposition between producers and consumers is disappearing . Finally, Brecht’s utopia of the two-way radio is enabled by the Internet right now. Anybody can record, publish, upload and download, side by side with the bigger broadcasters who are becoming increasingly present at the digital online environment. This transition from user to producer is being ensued by several discussions about privacy, ownership, and preservation. In these discussions we encounter the echo’s of the Derridean right of inspection.

The Right of Inspection
With the slightly agitated waving of the arms towards the cameras in the film Derrida (2004), the philosopher makes perfectly clear that these recording devices are the intruders in his environment. This must have been similar to what inspired him at the very beginning of the recordings for Echographies of Television (1996) where he demands the ‘right of inspection’ over the use that might be made of the recorded images. While his request is merely in ‘principal and in general’ (Derrida 2008:31) and without any great illusion, he basically wants to reaffirm this almost lost principle of control in the constant surroundings of recording and broadcasting machines, even when being in the private sphere.

I am at home [chez moi], but with all these machines and all these prostheses watching, surrounding, seducing us, the quote ‘natural’ conditions of expression, discussion, reflection, deliberation are to a large extent breached, falsified, warped. (Derrida 1996: 32)

In other words, Derrida feels that the presence of teletechnologies is alienating us from our ‘natural’ state of being and argues that this influences our reactions and actions. Derrida’s almost emotional sensitivity in this may be related to his relative ‘newness’ to these techniques. Could the younger generation be more used to those and therefore more ‘immune”? Will this notion change the implications of the ‘right of inspection’ because of changing moralities? Maybe Derrida’s worries are seen by this younger generation as outdated, comparable with the worries of the parents in the fifties about their children’s love of rock ’n roll. Besides his own sentiments about the dangers and complicated sides of teletechnologies, Derrida also argues that society should play an active role in this environment.
Derrida is not arguing that society should fight television, radio, e-mail or the Internet, but, on the contrary, he feels that it should work with those technologies in order to create room for the standards of its citizens, like their rights to propose, affirm and lay claim to. At the same time – and in the same rhythm- when teletechnologies are at work, they should be analyzed by ‘intellectuals’, just as Stiegler and Derrida are doing in their transcribed conversation. To certain extent, this has already happened, yet not by intellectuals but mainly by the younger generation who grew up with the possibilities of photoshopping, mash-up software, editing plug-ins etc. They are probably more aware than Derrida and his contemporaries of this construction of images. Maybe they rather like to trade their right of inspection for a right to be seen, or a right to speak. But, are these rights very different from Derrida’s right of Inspection, or are they just a part of it?

Derrida’s answer to the question what exactly is this right of inspection remains quite ambiguous. Rather, he refers to its power-relations than actually pinning down the word itself, as we can see in the following quote:

It may refer to abusive authority, authority which has been usurped, violently appropriated or imposed in a situation where we don’t ‘naturally’ have any rights. Who has right of inspection over whom? (Derrida 1996: 33)

With this reference to authority, Derrida relates to what Kant recalled to our minds, that ‘there is no right without the ability to exercise the force that will ensure it is respected’ (Derrida 2008:33). This means that one can only speak of a ‘right’ when one has the power to exert it. The notion of this right is in transit since online broadcasting is replacing television broadcasting and several kinds of rights are being influenced .
Derrida argues that because the audio-visual archive has been broadcasted before and is therefore already public, the  ‘state or a nation has the right or duty to store, to preserve the quasi totality of what is produced and broadcast on national stations’ and that ‘the law should grant access to it- exert the law’ (Derrida 2008:35). This public nature of the archive is directly related to another of Derrida’s concerns, his fear for the misuse of his recorded words and actions. While he is not under the illusion that he can control or appropriate his own words and actions, he still argues that ‘I would at least like the things I say and do not to be immediately and clearly used toward ends I feel I must oppose (Derrida 1996: 37). This concern for the misuse of his words is counterbalancing the whish of free access to the archive (but, pure access to an archive is off course a different thing than (un-authorized) re-use of archival images). Contemporary teletechnologies render the gap between the two relatively small: when we see a clip online, we can usually download, and therefore re-use, it.
Many of Derrida’s conceptions as mentioned here are influenced by the era of television with its strong opposition between broadcast companies (the producers) on the one side and the audience (the users) on the other. Modes of digital reproduction and distribution change this balance and cast a different light on Derrida’s ideas. By means of two very different recent applications, the huge and popular YouTube and the smaller, political focused Tactical Media Files I will explore in which way Derrida’s teletechnologies influence his philosophy.

Part II- Case studies

Web 2.0
Although Derrida considers the Internet as part of his list of teletechnologies in his conversations, he never refers to the online aspect specifically. This might be caused by the fact that when Echographies of Television was written, in 1996, the full potential of the Internet was mainly conceptual and, due to technical restrictions, streaming audio and video was not possible yet for the majority of its users. Geert Lovink in his introduction of the new Video Vortex Reader (2008) already expressed that ‘even though this technology was already there around 1997 with platforms such as RealVideo, it was only in 2006 that millions of users got familiar with small video screens when YouTube reached a critical mass of short video clips’ (Lovink 2008:9). And especially in this environment Derrida’s ideas received new meaning.
The term Web 2.0 dates from 2004 and refers not to an entirely new form of the World Wide Web but merely indicates ‘ a technology and design that aims to enhance creativity, communications, secure information sharing, collaboration and hosted services, such as social-network sites, video sharing sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies’ (Wikipedia 2008). Web 2.0 mainly indicates the changes in software development and end-user behavior . In opposition to older ‘1.0’ websites where users were restricted to just viewing, and content was fully controlled by a webmaster, these 2.0 sites have what is called the ‘architecture of participation’ which means that users are encouraged to upload information while using it. Its characteristics can be defined as a richer user experience, user participation, dynamic content, metadata, openness, and collective intelligence. Web 2.0 can be considered as a participatory web and Web 1.0 as information source and both have specific qualities. How are the Derridean archival concepts holding up in both types of applications?

“We no longer watch films or TV, we watch databases”, is the slogan Lovink uses in The New Video Vortex reader (Lovink 2008:9) while introducing YouTube. YouTube, a typical Web 2.0 application, is a very popular video-sharing website, founded in 2005 and sold to Google in 2006, and it attracts a herd of uploading people to create a new kind of anarchistic, semi-uncensored, and personalized television experience. Users can watch and upload videos, but also leave comments to postings of others (video as well as text-comments), create channels, join groups and add friends. They can either enter YouTube as anonymous user or a personalized account can be created in order to be subjected to suggestions, advices and tips related to previously watched videos or browsing activities. Uploading is free but downloading is officially not allowed but open software like Gettube  makes this quite easy. At the same time, YouTube does provide simple links for embedding videos in other websites or blogs or for sending it to other users (you can watch and use but not ‘own’ or edit – meaning the material stays at the YouTube servers). The YouTube platform is used by amateurs and professionals at the same time within the same categories. YouTube is regarded as controversial: some consider it as a superb, open network where long lost material can be found, shared and enjoyed while others are under the impression that YouTube is mainly a repository for all kinds of visual garbage and infantile behavior while endangering good taste and the dignity of mankind in the meantime.
According to Lovink, YouTube finally enables the camera to be the ‘cinema-verité’ stilo (camera-pen) as conceptualized by Alexandre Astruc and Andre Bazin in the 1940s. They described their new cinema as a form of audiovisual language where the filmmaker became a writer in light (Encyclopedia Britannica 2009). Accordingly, the director of the film is taking the place of the scriptwriter as  ‘author’ of the movie, because fundamental visual elements such as camera placement, blocking, lighting, and scene length convey the message of the film. Those who were in favor of this auteur theory considered the most interesting films those that bared the unmistakable personal stamp of the director. This notion of ‘auteur-cinema’ resembles the amateur YouTube videos in the way that the cheap-and-easy to use video-cameras enable the maker to work spontaneously and quick so the ‘real and authentic life’ can be captured: uncensored by big studio’s, major investors, scriptwriters and broadcasting directors, film becomes a personal mode of expression. This leads to a variety of material that can be analyzed as being a meaningful ‘mirror’ for society and their sub-cultures: sub-cultures that are now very visible for outsiders and therefore can be analyzed as a reaction to bigger social developments.

The popular YouTube videos with their lame entertainment character are not just random junk; they touch the essence of this cultural technology. Think of the ‘happy slapping’ category, which mimics Hollywood film violence for fun down the street. (Lovink 2008: 11)

Besides being a mirror for society, YouTube can be seen as a mirror for the individual user. Most of the uploaded clips are not seen by many, they merely serve as form of validation for someone’s existence: I upload therefore I am.
Beside the personal uploads and home-movies, YouTube is also used as a depository for earlier broadcasted clips like music video’s, popular comedy shows, philosophy lectures, etc. In this way YouTube becomes an archive for broadcasted television material but also a re-blog platform for other online sources. By searching with the right tags, a great amount of interesting material is retrievable for anyone.
Despite the open and liberal character of YouTube, there is a strong censorship-system at work, based on flagging and comments from other users and by the YouTube team. Inappropriate material is removed, and sometimes, individual accounts are cancelled. Late 2008 YouTube even announced a stronger policy towards swearing and erotic material. As a result, many related video and text postings can be found on YouTube discussing this matter .

Tactical Media Files

The Tactical Media Files (TMF) is a video-server that provides web documentation of tactical media and is founded by De Balie, a centre for culture and politics in Amsterdam. According to the TMF Website, ‘Tactical media blend art, politics, media and technology to give voice to the voiceless and create space in the public domain for dissenting opinions and marginalized social and cultural groups, in and across different societies’ (Tactical Media Files 2008). Most of the material that can be viewed on the TMF though, originates from the Next 5 Minutes festivals for tactical media, organized in Amsterdam between 1993 and 2003. Besides these materials, the TMF also archives other material in video as well as in texts. What the criteria are for documentation from these other sources is not clear.
Besides the strict topic of Tactical Media, there are several distinctions between the YouTube and the TMF setup. The TMF works with a system of contributing editors, which means that not every user can upload his or her material. This set-up makes TMF basically a kind of a Web 1.0 application. All material is selected and uploaded by a select group of contributing editors, who are instructed by the TMF- founders. Anyone who is interested in the topic can theoretically apply for the position as contributing editor but in a personal email de Balie made it clear to me that they rather like to control the content of the site as much as possible for now. Obviously, the TMF is definitely less open than YouTube. On the other hand, free downloading is optional within the TMF-site, even though they mention that it is not clear who owns the copyrights. They argue that they can provide free downloads because of the low quality of the material and that they do not sell the material.
The TMF is a small-scale operation that runs on a public infrastructure and is therefore very different from the commercial Google-owned YouTube. Another interesting difference is that the TMF does not make use of any form of communication platform in the way YouTube does, for example. This is almost puzzling because it possibly could be a very useful tool for visitors since communication in this area of politics and arts is of great importance.
Obviously, TMF is merely offering a filter on all kind of tactical media and does not want to become a forum where people can exchange ideas and get in touch. This has roughly two consequences. On the one hand, there is a quality-control that YouTube lacks while on the other hand, only the ‘officially approved’ material gets through. The Web 1.0 politics behind the TMF are structuring but also limiting the content; issues or events they overlook, will not get online. YouTube’s 2.0 politics is more open but the ‘right of inspection’ is hard to control. Which application would have scared and pleased Derrida the most? The restricted TMF or the more open YouTube?

Part III- Derrida on the Web

The Web as Archive
The first question is to what extent YouTube and TMF are archives. On the one hand, they both can be considered archives: they are ‘places’ where ‘selected’ audio-visual material is ‘stored’ in order to inspect in a later point in time by others. We already touch three problematic points here, the ‘place’–part, the ‘selection’-part and the ‘storing’ -part.
In the beginning of this paper, I defined the archive as a location, as a place of storage. The question now is what this means when online websites are becoming the ‘place’ where the archive resides. Is an online ‘place’ a place?

So, since the archive does not consist simply in remembering, in living memory, in anamnesis; but in consigning, in inscribing a trace in some external location – there is no archive without some location, that is, some space outside. Archive is not a living memory. It is a location – that is why the political power of the archons is so essential in the definition of the archive. (Derrida 1998: 42)

Derrida here focuses the attention to the political meaning of the archive as a location. Yet what does this mean for online archives in the virtual space? A virtual place is not bound to a certain state or country but is assembled beyond nation-borders and is globally accessible.  This means that no longer one state or one nation is responsible for selection and storing issues. At first sight, this seems to be a good thing since nationalistic tendencies are neutralized and filtered out, but the lack of awareness that even a borderless archive has beneficiaries can be problematic: any archive is in general a construction constituted out of choices made by ‘someone’. For example, our expectations of a German national archive about the Holocaust are different from those of a French or a Dutch holocaust archive. When nations-borders are not shaping the material, we have to actively seek for what does.
Another issue is that the ownership of these online archives is not always clear. YouTube for example is owned by Google, but for how long, and what are their plans with all the information they store ? Can they close down YouTube’s servers any time they like? Can they sell and re-use all the stored material? In the case of YouTube we like to think that we ‘share’ the online material- despite the law-suits started by Hollywood studios. The question is to what extent John Doe is aware of the fact that his material is stored in somebody else’s closet and what this could mean on the long run, for example when YouTube gets sold to a third party.
Another awkward but related problem is that these archives are used and re-used by so many people, that once something is put online, it is hard to make it disappear again. Off course anyone can take down a single YouTube clip, but chances are that someone already re-blogged the clip somewhere else. This means that the right of inspection, in the way it worried Derrida, indeed easily gets out of control. Video material is used and re-used constantly in an often unauthorized way. Derrida feels that teletechnologies are alienating us from our ‘natural’ state of being but the younger generation is probably more used to these technologies and therefore more ‘immune’. Is Derrida’s notion of the right of inspection changing because of changing moralities? It definitely seems that, especially for the younger generation, it is at least less problematic than it was for Derrida. Having an extensive and active data-body is more important nowadays than the worries about who sees or (re)uses the material retrieved from it.

YouTube and TMF
Whereas both YouTube and TMF can be considered as places where data-bodies are assembled, these two archives are obviously very different. The extremely popular and well used YouTube works with personal material, open uploading, and room for comments while the small and restricted TMF operates within a semi-open system where distributed editors filter the content. The first is a typical example of Web 2.0 architecture and the second of Web 1.0. By comparing these two applications, the strengths and weaknesses of the discrete forms of web-architecture become visible.
YouTube is open, free, and democratic but therefore shows a lot of ‘nonsense and garbage’. The way YouTube takes form is ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ and therefore in a certain sense, it possibly cannot even be called an archive, when using the Derridean terminology. It seems not constructed enough and the three decisive steps as mentioned in section one (what is recorded, how is it manipulated, who decides what to preserve, and who decides what to show) are now in the hands of individuals without one central concept. Despite this lack of structure, YouTube certainly does have a certain signature. A signature that is not imbedded in the discrete clips, but recognizable in the over-all architecture of the site, which gives it a clear unique identity.

…there is no archive without the ‘signature of the archivist’. By signature of the archivist, I don’t mean the individual signature of the person in charge, but the signature of the apparatus, the people, and the institution, which produces the archive. This signature is a language. The archivist doesn’t simply perceive the documents, doesn’t simply receive the documents. It organizes it, it produces it in a certain way, and in this production implies the language on the part of the archivist. (Derrida 1998: 64)

In this definition of the identity of the archive, the YouTube organization can be seen as the archivist, and not the individual uploaders. Its architecture is decisive for the identity: the way the material is organized, the level of agency granted to its users, and the censorship-regulations together are creating its signature.
TMF on the other hand gives little freedom to its users – has a strong grip on both the topic and the quality- and even lacks a communication platform. This way they ban the YouTube nonsense but also the free and democratic hands-on mentality of Web 2.0 that seems so suitable for a topic as Tactical Media. I wonder if they are able to pursue this kind of architecture or that they will be forced over time by their online surroundings to open up and create more space for an interactive system where the user gets bigger agency. It seems that TMF is more like an archive in the Derridean sense. It is structured and constituted by a group of people with a clear vision. The YouTube archive is a less typical form of an archive, for one because it is dynamic, organic, growing every second without control of its owners, for now. I am wondering if the YouTube archive is a new consequence of the intersection of the Web 2.0 architecture possibilities and human’s archiving nature. TMF is in that sense nothing more than a relatively static 1.0 version of our old-fashioned library system: everything well stored, financed by a (left-wing) state-institution, and controlled by a central organ. Is it possible to compare these two different forms of archiving? How would Derrida’s right of inspection turn out in both cases, and what is it actually, that Derrida was looking for or fearing?

Right of Inspection 1.0 or 2.0
Derrida argues that we should be aware of the systems of selectivity within archival environments, and this is precisely what becomes unclear within the natively digital. It seems that the 1.0 way of TMF is more selective since it is a non-open system but within its own restrictions, it is actually quite open: because of the lack of ‘nonsense’, the user is able to focus and therefore gets a more profound insight in this specific material. Besides, there is no censorship based on bourgeois norms –like YouTube has- in the sense that nudity, disrespectful language, or pornographic imagery is blocked. Their criteria of selection are purely based on content. YouTube on the other hand, does censor on lifestyle –gay content is for example easily flagged- but looks much more open. What is left, dancing hamsters, car crashes, ancient Abba songs, drug experimenting students etc. are causing such white noise that it is hard to find what you were looking for: there are many distractions, you need to multitask: as soon as we enter YouTube we all immediately get visual HDAD, as Lovink calls it. The notion that there is no archive without privileging some matters over others is exactly what is lacking in YouTube: by the lack of choices, we run the risk to get overwhelmed by futilities. When archiving is like remembering, and remembering is ensued by forgetting, YouTube makes us remember so much that we run the risk of forgetting all, or just remember those things that shocked us the most, by accident. At the same time YouTube gives us insights in worlds, dreams, and environments we would have never gotten access to: places no curator ever gets hold on and this is the amazing beauty of YouTube, we only have to find the right tags to find the right clips.
This is the important interactive quality of Web 2.0: the user needs to find the right tags, cues, and words to browse on. Browsing and information retrieval becomes the new selection method. Not the person who puts the material in the archive is in charge (selection at the side of the uploader), but the person who retrieves it (selection at the side of the downloader) and this takes different kinds of skills concerning awareness. The ‘right of inspection’ becomes a right of the individual to inspect and to own: as long as it is online, you can get it .
Another important issue for YouTube is the awareness of the reader, user, spectator, of the weak distinction between fiction narrations and faction narrations. Since the means of production and distribution are becoming increasingly available for the amateur, he is becoming more aware of the construction of material. White’s fact and fantasy conflate constantly in front of his eyes and authenticity is no longer the decisive factor of quality. The question is no longer: is it true? But rather: do I like it? What does it mean to me? What can I get from it? The notion that there are only points of view and that no single perspective has a closer relation to truth than any other is becoming common ground. As White said, a ‘good’ historian should remind his readers of the purely provisional nature of this characterization of events. And YouTube is doing this, by showing us backstage with the clumsy cameras, bad lighting, and by making us the produsers instead of merely users.
Maybe the archetypical Derridean archive bears more resemblance to TMF, but I think that in his dreams, a ‘2.0 YouTube-like system’ is more in his direction. Derrida would have said that society should not fight the archival machine, but work with it. This suggestion resembles what is actually happening at Web 2.0 and YouTube. The difference is that this interactive agency does not just belong to Derrida’s –highbrow- intellectuals but rather to the –lowbrow- masses. For the better or the worse, this is maybe one of the biggest revolutions in the cultural world in the last decade and these masses seem likely to trade their right of inspection for a right to be seen and a right of speech.
The contemporary ease of recording and broadcasting enabled by modern technologies has two sides. On the one hand it is placing ‘the mass’ in a more democratic power position in opposition to the earlier days where the means of production –and distribution- where mainly in the hands of the political and social elite. On the other hand, this is causing a situation where we no longer have a firm grip on the things we say or do. Once our words or deeds are recorded and broadcasted, with or without our knowledge, they are out of our control. This is enabled by the natively digital, as Kittler already argued: the optical fiber network comprises all former separate data flows to one stream of one’s and zero’s (Kittler 1987). This digitalization makes it possible to modulate, transform, synchronize, scramble, scan and map, and the connection of all media erases the notion of the medium itself and knowledge can run as an endless loop. Kittler considers this endless loop of knowledge, in which ‘the readability of all discourse transforms man or the philosopher into god (Kittler 1987: 115)’, as a futuristic dream. This dream may already have arrived with the rise of Web 2.0 applications, but like Derrida already foretold, there are also related issues that could be more problematic. While Derrida is interested in both sides of teletechnologies-its democratic possibilities and the loss of control- he warns us not to stay passive bystanders but pushes us to engage, to work with them. Since Derrida wrote his text, much has changed and technological developments have possibly brought his dreams closer. The ease of uploading, downloading, and communicating (in text and in visuals) creates room for the standards of the citizens and finally, society indeed works with the technologies. The downside of this is that we loose even more our ‘right of inspection’. Our words, deeds, representations, and our data-bodies are on the loose, which is creating several problems concerning privacy, the ‘right of inspection’ and the right of control. An example of this today is the discussion about the ‘Electronisch Patienten Dossier’ (EPD) where all medical information of citizens is digitized and filed centrally. Since it is not yet clear who will have access to this archive – right now or in the near future – or how to guarantee its security, its launch will probably be delayed.
When looking at YouTube and TMF, we can see two different reactions to these contemporary developments. In the first case, the most open and democratic ways of use are seemingly activated. Everybody can store everything, within censorship restrictions. This creates an archive that makes us find things we might like but were not looking for. The decisive factor moves from the act of selectivity to the act of retrieval. It is not the structured archive as he probably had in mind, but it can be regarded as the Derridean ‘dream’ coming true, a dream of a society that works with the technologies that are offered instead of passive consumption. The second case, the TMF, is a more conservative example of an archive. Though it is digital, downloadable, and transferable, it has little room for user-reaction. This is a deliberate choice because they feel it makes a better archive. It is easier to find specific content, because they can control its quality and relevance. Where YouTube lately gets heavenly censored under the influence of the market on topics of sexuality or bad taste, the TMF actually does not apply a censorship based on such motivations. Meaning that when issues like cursing, pornography and alike are relevant to the topic, they are allowed, even when it is disturbing, obnoxious or offending. Technically this means that not all TMF clips would be allowed on YouTube, and the alleged openness of YouTube proves to be rather limited. Derrida would probably have liked the TMF concept of the distributed to involve the user concerning the content and creation of the archive- but he certainly would not have liked that the explanation button on this topic being tucked away, like it is now.
On different scales, both sides are definitely educating society about relevance, authenticity, truth, and the construction of audio-visual material. Little by little, we are uploading our entire world, and besides its political use, it is now up to the individual if this enormous growing online archive is there for entertainment, philosophical education, political wiliness, sexual aberrations, dissolving boredom or obtaining insight.


Derrida, Jacques (1996). Echografies of Television. Odynssey Press Inc., Gonic, New Hampshire.

Derrida, Jacques (1998). Seminar at the University of the Witwatersrand, August 1998. Transcribed by Verne Harris.

Dick, Kirby (2002). Derrida. Zeitgeist video.

Kittler, Friedrich (1987). Gramaphone, Film, Typewriter. Stanford University Press California.

Lovink, Geert (2008). Video Vortex Reader: Responses to YouTube. Institute for Network Cultures.

White, Hayden (1978). The Historical Text as a Literary Artifact in Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism, Baltimore and London: 85-6. accessed December 12, 2008 accessed December 12, 2008 accessed December 24, 2008 accessed at January 1, 2009 accessed January 1, 2009