This past Spring, Jim Groom and I started up a project we’ve been calling the “Console Living Room” or just “#umwconsole.” Jim has already written frequently and passionately about this project, but now that Jim is moving on, it falls to me to steer this project into something more permanent and long term. To that end, I’ve been working on a proposal document that names this project, defines its purposes and scope, and basically makes the argument that this is something worth doing. I intend to offer this proposal soon to UMW’s Special Assistant to the Provost for Teaching and Technology Innovation (a.k.a. Jeff), but I wanted to share this proposal here in draft form to help spread the word and possibly gain some input. In other words, I definitely welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions — especially if any of my examples are incorrect or you can think of other, similar initiatives worth listing.


A Proposal for The Media Anachronism Project

UMW is a national leader in emerging digital pedagogies, and the new Convergence Center underscores this commitment to cutting edge video, audio, and collaborative tools. At a moment when consumer and production technologies are converging in more accessible platforms and becoming ubiquitous via smaller devices, it is more important than ever to contextualize the current technological moment with an awareness of its historical precedents, especially the cultural, textual, and ideological mechanisms of media convergence that take place in domestic settings.

This document is a proposal to formalize UMW’s support of this research and pedagogy by defining a “Media Anachronism Project” (MAP) that builds off of the work completed in Spring of 2015 in the ad hoc “Console Living Room” exhibit installed in the fourth floor of the ITCC. As it concerns the Console Living Room, The MAP’s goal is to make that original work more streamlined, more organized, and more sustainable by clarifying its scope, purpose, and audiences.

Why “The MAP”?

The acronym of this project obviously puns on the idea of a map, so one could say, in a sense, that the purpose of the re-creation and restoration initiatives of the MAP will be locate the materiality of media and digital history within familiar spatial contexts like a living room. Further, the idea of a map as a focal image suggests a mode of inquiry (seeking, questing after, discovering) that we hope the MAP will encourage. Finally, as a pirate’s map may mark the location of buried treasure, the media-archaeological focus of the MAP underscores the critical practice of that emerging field wherein scholars dig through layers of history to locate clues about the cultural contexts of media technology.

Benefit to the University

UMW has identified digital initiatives as a priority in many different ways, but all of these existing programs and initiatives — UMWBlogs, the ThinkLab, and Domain of One’s Own, for instance — have a focus on the future. There are currently no initiatives that focus on the history of digital technology. By supporting The MAP, a commitment that at this stage requires only the few resources outlined in this document, UMW will join the handful of other institutions nationally with similar efforts: the University of Colorado at Boulder, Rutgers-Camden, University of Texas at Austin, UW Madison, Stanford, and University of Arizona, to name the most visible and  examples supported by academic institutions. Notably, UMW would join this cohort as the only Public Liberal Arts institution, and with a more narrow focus on situated exhibitions like the current Console Living Room, UMW stands to offer an interpretation framework for the digital that contextualizes media technology as part of lived human experience that could be a meaningful and highly visible aspect of our digital liberal arts.

More locally, the content of The MAP supports teaching and learning activities in courses that include media history.

Mission Statement

Whereas

The rapid obsolescence of media technology is a routine and familiar cycle, a consequence of globalization, and an catalyst for nostalgia, and

Whereas

No technology exists in a vacuum but rather it lives within a diverse ecosystem of other technologies and media, and

Whereas:

A media platform can be a lens into its original cultural, social and meaningful contexts, especially when that technology can be used, played, or viewed in its original modality and settings, and

Whereas:

Those modes are best engaged in a context that embraces the artifactual specifics of that platform while simultaneously defamiliarizing the actual, lived context of users,

Therefore

The Media Anachronism Project is dedicated to

  • Collecting, storing, and maintaining obsolete media and media technology
  • Ensuring easy, public access to that media and technology
  • Creating educational programming using the material collected to immerse students in anachronistic media consumption
  • Supporting faculty, students and other researchers who want to use the initiative’s material
  • Installing exhibits of a defined scope and duration to highlight chronological or thematic affinities within the collection
  • Using the website and other publicity to enhances and extends user’s engagement with the initiative and its exhibits

Resources and Requirements

In order to best accomplish these goals and sustain these efforts, the initiative will depend on the coordination of a few key resources. Most of these resources are already in place, some will require configuration and adjustment, and a few new elements will need to be acquired, probably with the support of the TTI Fellowship budget.

  • Storage space for items not currently on display.
  • A catalog or inventory system, built on the foundation of the current website.
  • Access to the digital signage monitor for communicating information about The MAP and current broadcasting..
  • An additional broadcast antenna for TV programming. (about $70.)
  • Shelving and storage containers for the closet.

Tasks for Fall 2015

Streamlining the current exhibit

  • Reduce the footprint down to the defined “Niche” area, from the wall to just behind where the couch currently sits by moving some furniture, including the foosball table, back to the surplus warehouse and moving some items into the storage closet.
  • Remove and recycle the temporary wood paneled wall currently blocking the monitor.

Programming for TV Broadcast

  • Complete the TV programming, which is still very much a work in progress. Eventually, it should be possible to complete a full week’s worth of plausible, contemporaneous programming, complete with commercials. The software for carrying this out still requires some work, but some of the programming (the actual broadcast content, that is) might benefit from crowdsourcing.

Spreading the Message

  • Prepare some information (some signs and a pamphlet, say) to quickly and succinctly explaining The MAP to help vindicate its presence on the 4th floor of the ITCC.

Programs and events for Fall 2015

In response to requests from faculty Danny Tweedy and Antonio Barrenechea in ELC, The MAP will host at least one class visit and will provide an alternative screening context for some films. Barrenechea’s “Film, Text and Culture” class explores exploitation and grindhouse cinema in a time period that aligns closely with the current exhibit, and Tweedy’s Blaxploitation Literature class will have an opportunity to view The Birth of a Nation and No Way Out on repeat on channel 9.

Tentative Programming for Spring 2016

“The Roaring 90s”. The current exhibit is set in the 1980s, so one way to iterate the collection is to next focus on the mid 1990s. We already have a few items that could form the core of a 1990s exhibit, including a Sega Genesis, a Nintendo 64, and a Nintendo Virtual Boy. Television programming could likewise be updated using the same code that will be running the 1980s TV broadcast.

  • The only part that makes me sad is that the paneled wall would be taken down. It plays such an important part in recreating the feel of the room and I wonder if the digital signage wouldn’t detract from the spirit of the moment. The proposal is spot on though and makes the argument well! Found myself wondering what the projects are at the other schools, maybe list them by name rather than just the school names with links where applicable?

    • zachwhalen

      This is a good idea Tim. Thanks. And maybe I should clarify that I don’t want to take the whole wall down — just the side that’s covering up the monitor. The side by the window hopefully can stay.