Sunday, May 18, 2008

Take Me to Your Leader

Time for another post dealing with my theory that we are in the Archival Era. Another sign that we are in such an era is the mere existence of the Voyager Golden Record. Indeed, the concept of the "time capsule" in itself is evidence of a new kind of societal self-awareness (or self-indulgence depending on one's perspective), but the idea of a "space time capsule" takes things to a whole new level.

I like Wikipedia's description of the utility of the Golden Record:

As the probes are extremely small compared to the vastness of interstellar space, it is extraordinarily unlikely that they will ever be intercepted. If they are ever found by an alien species, it will be far in the future, and thus the record is best seen as a time capsule or a symbolic statement rather than a serious attempt to communicate with aliens.
That last part is a little vague as to whom the "symbolic statement" was intended for. If Carl Sagan and company were not trying to seriously communicate with aliens, what were they trying to do? I think subconsciously they were taking advantage of an opportunity to work through an archival project not for aliens, but for us. The compiling of the vast diversity of audio productions representative of Earth's cultures can be conceived of as a sort of ultimate Top 10 list (or Top 27 as the case may be). In many respects, what the Golden Record committee did was no different than what the editors of Blender magazine do on a monthly basis.

And for further proof that we are in an Archival Era, I would ask what would be different about the Golden Record if it were compiled today? Obviously, the physical artifact itself would be different--no way that today's scientists would use a phonograph to encode the sounds. But I don't think the actual recordings would need to be updated, despite a passage of over 30 years. Maybe EMI would finally give the rights to a Beatles song, and you could make a case for Elvis instead of Chuck Berry, or Robert Johnson instead of Blind Willie Johnson (or Blind Willie McTell instead of Blind Willie Johnson, I suppose), but they pretty much covered the bases in 1977. This serves to uphold David Gates's theory that while technology may change, the content that technology houses has reached a dead end.

But the content of the Golden Record is really secondary to the idea behind its production. Although Jimmy Carter hilariously informs the record's recipients that we hope to one day join their "community of Galactic Civilizations," he also says that it represents "our hope and our determination." Rather than a "determination" to join the "Galactic community," I read the act of sending the record as a determination to make a cultural export to the Final Frontier, not so much as an act of imperialism, but as a validation of the development of culture on the old frontiers. I see this as an ongoing project of the Archival Era--in addition to sorting and making sense of what we have done throughout our history, we will continually, nervously, attempt to validate it. And we will seek out other frontiers to do so. And in doing so, we might actually have a slight opening to make further innovations before this window too slams shut.


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