Monday, October 18, 2010

Ontology in digital media

Frankly, a blog on digital issues doesn't lend itself particularly well to imagery, though I look forward to being corrected on this. Since I'm dipping into the philosophical here, I've taken the opportunity to preface this piece with a view from outside our seminar room, which I snapped last week.

View from outside the Anatomy Theatre, Kings College London
Ploughing through readings on DAM, one word seems to come up rather frequently, clearly packing some weight: ontology. It's come up so often that, rather than dismissing these philosophical trappings as superfluous to practical implementation, it seems worth taking the bull by the horns and exploring the potential of an ontological enquiry in this context. I did, after all, begin this blog as a means of self-education.

The term 'digital' is probably taken for granted by most people, and registers largely at the conceptual level. It's a fluid medium that is hard to pin down: is it merely our conceptual perception of information presented on a screen, for example, or the process by which hardware and software interact to interpret digital data - or even the physical medium to which any of these can ultimately be traced?

These notions were put forward by Kenneth Thibodeau at the US National Archives and Records Administration some years ago and I find them very useful, not least because they highlight some of the major differences between digital and traditional preservation concerns. Essentially it seems that in most cases, the conceptual delivery of digital materials are of prime importance (that is, the point at which digital data takes on meaning for humans), to the point that the physical source and even the logical processes that deliver digital data in conceptual form can be altered to suit that end. Compare that with the object-orientated world of traditional preservation which seeks to alter physical objects as little as possible - when applied to digital media, a traditional approach would probably favour the preservation of obsolete hardware instead.

I might also add that, by nature, DAM is a more active process, because leaving a digital object in a box (whatever form that object may take) for 50 years is going to ensure its loss and destruction, rather than its preservation, as would be the case with paper or other physical objects. But I don't believe that DAM can be truly effective without ontology, since its effective delivery hinges on a proper understanding of the differerent facets of a digital object and how they relate to one another to achieve preservation, function, accessibility and so on. Whether or not you even aware that you are applying an ontological investigation to DAM processes, it's always there. As such, it does seem like a practical tool, even if the etymology of the word is Greek.

No comments:

Post a Comment