onsdag 20 april 2016

(Digital) technology and archaeology

Many of the discussions at this year's edition of the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology CAA 2016 conference held earlier this week in Oslo were directly or somewhat less directly related to anxieties (and occasional optimism) about the impact of various types of technologies (and social arrangements related to technologies) on archaeological (information) work and practices. For instance, the old debate between increased standardisation versus the support of flexibility in archaeological documentation and information management (cf. e.g. Huvila 2012) was still very much alive.

One of the most to the point comments was made by Kevin Woolridge who noted at the DigiTAG session that one of the major drivers of technology adoption has been to save resources and what has been happened is that the savings have been used to buy "f*cking helicopters" i.e. in general technologies that are fun to use but with somewhat questionable direct benefit to the archaeological work proper. At the same time, however, presenters noted that technologies do indeed have positive effects on archaeological work and for instance, as Lieberman and Tucker showed, the use of paperless documentation methods can actually increase communication and collaboration within field teams.

The significant question, however, is the general issue of what kind of impact the introduction, and in case of CAA attendants, experimentation with technologies, has on (archaeological) information work. My own presentation on the No man's business discussed the same issue in the context of archaeological archiving and information management by explicating the relation of social arrangements of how archaeological information work is managed in different countries (with a starting point in the Swedish practices) and the digitisation of information has on the value and qualities of archaeological information, and consequently on what archaeology turns out to be. Physical information management was slower and less oriented towards easiness and speed and as a consequence, it was also more tolerant towards complexity, local differences, improvisation and lack of unity. The digitalisation of information and our changed expectations about how information work should work has made us much less tolerant for local variety, incompatibilities and messiness of information practices even if that it at the same time something that the easiness and diversity of the digital realm endorses. In this sense, in order to make the consequences of technological influence and its consequences literally someone's business and to avoid investment in f*cking helicopters, it is important to be even more explicit than before of what is "archaeological (information) work" and according to whom and whose definition archaeological information practices are developed and regulated. Only then technology can be taken into use (in contrast to the technology taking us into use) and it is possible to open up for more diversity and flexibility in a sustainable manner.

(This text has been published also at http://www.istohuvila.se/node/476)

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