The Preservation of Complex Objects, Volume 2: Software Art

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POCOS is an outward-looking and thoughtful project which addresses topics of significant complexity for the preservation of digital collections. Preservation is challenging enough for relatively well-understood and self-contained data types like images and documents but the digital estate is increasingly about sophisticated interactions and interdependencies between software, hardware and people. Our digital memory is growing in scale, our interactions with it are growing more sophisticated, and the ways in which elements are constructed are growing ever more subtle. So the challenge is not necessarily getting easier the more we know about it. Those concerned with safeguarding our digital legacy must never fall into the trap of constraining digital creativity - but nor should they be so complacent as to think they can afford to ignore change. Instead of waiting for inspiration to come through introspection or individual genius, POCOS invited, persuaded and cajoled many people to consider the transience of our digital heritage. Three symposia followed, on broad themes of visualisation, software art and virtual worlds. Creators, policy makers, conservators and collection managers shared their aspirations, expectations, priorities and limitations. The resulting reports will become a lasting contribution - perhaps even a roadmap - for research and development. Although those behind it would never be so grand to claim it themselves, it has all the best elements of a 'grand challenges' initiative.

This volume considers the preservation of software art. At first inspection, preservation of software art may seem like an esoteric concern for ephemeral objects. But, as with all of POCOS, it challenges many of our expectations about collection management and preservation. There are complex technical challenges about the interdependencies of software, operating systems, hardware and users. It introduces the inter-subjectivity of meaning and the contexts of performance which defy simplistic approaches to documentation and representation. It crosses the boundaries of institutional genre and raises disconcerting questions about policy and competence. So there is a real sense that software art is a topic for the avant-garde of digital preservation: it pushes the boundaries not for its own sake but in order that all can progress.

(Source: Preface by WIlliam Kilbridge)

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Scott Rettberg