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DigiCULT 11
T
hey argued a lot about virtually everything
in this DigiCULT Forum Number 5. In
fact, it was probably the most argumentative
Forum yet because the thirteen specialists were
charged with getting a grip on the intangible and
making it work for them and their heritage
institutions.
But, perhaps it was also because the six women
and seven men meeting in beautiful Edinburgh's
Napier University constituted the first DigiCULT
Forum to approach gender egalitarianism.
They had to find ways in which virtual communi-
ties ­ online groups of like minds, Internet tribes,
almost ­ and collaborations could be harnessed to
the exciting, taxing business of exploiting and
enhancing cultural heritage holdings. It was easy
to say, devilish hard to do.
`Professional virtual communities are, in a
fundamental sense, impossible,' said the Moderator.
`If that is true, why are we even here?' asked a
museologist. `I disagree with both of you,' said a
curator.
It went on for a little while but, when eventually
they reached understanding, they fell to discussing
subjects like the virtual communities they were
tasked to encourage. By the end, the Edinburgh
experts concluded that cultural heritage virtual
communities would and must happen despite
potential snags like authenticity, resistance from
some heritage institutions, and `moon and green
cheese revisionists'.
Their exploration was part of a 30-month series
of seven round table debates for the European
Commission's Information Society Technologies
Directorate, enlightening cultural institutions ­
museums, libraries, art galleries, archives and the
like ­ on how digitisation can improve their lives.
Previous gatherings have teased out knotty issues
such as the Semantic Web, digital learning objects
and digital asset management. Now the adepts of
the Fifth Forum of DigiCULT were to do battle
with virtual reality.
Moderator Kristóf Nyíri, a philosophy historian
at Budapest's Institute for Philosophical Research
1
of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
2
(Magyar
Tudományos Akadémia), outlined the Forum discourse,
reminding the group that information and com-
munications technologies (ICTs) had become
indispensable to the solution of world problems such
as the preservation of cultural heritage. He posited
that virtual communities fell into two categories: the
non-professional groups that could remain virtual
`because there are no big stakes' and the professional
ones that were, as he put it, `just phases in face-to-
face meetings'.
He reinforced the idea: `I believe professional
virtual communities are just virtual dimensions of
underlying real physical professional communities.'
Professionals had a grave time management problem,
he said, caused largely by `the rhythm and pattern of
life generated by these ICTs'.
He went on: `This state of affairs is serious.We
are not allowed to say this in public but privately all
of us realise that life has become hell. In terms of
cultural heritage, what we have is too much of
everything; where there is too little well-organised,
well-articulated, well-preserved and well-presented
material. In preserving and digitising it, the main
question is how to channel, distil, sell and organise
it ... which technologies to use to make this flood
manageable.'
It seemed to need the question that Dr Cary
Karp
, President and Chief Executive of Sweden's
Museum Domain Management Association,
3
put
soon afterwards. He agreed with the Moderator by
saying: `The only thing that the digital platform will
ever be is an adjunct mode of communication for a
pre-existing physical community.' But then he added:
`And if that is true why are we even here today?'
Moderator Nyíri insisted: `I am not dogmatic about
this but fundamentally if there is no physical back-
bone to a virtual community in a professional sense
that virtual community is not likely to get off the
ground.'
C
ULTURAL
S
KIRMISHES AROUND THE
T
RIBAL E
-R
EALMS OF
V
IRTUAL
C
OMMUNITIES
By Michael Steemson
1
Institute for Philosophical
Research, Budapest,
http://www.phil-inst.hu
2
Hungarian Academy of
Sciences, Budapest,
http://www.mta.hu
3
Museum Domain
Management
Association, Stockholm,
http://musedoma.museum
Digicult_THI5_JS_090104 09.01.2004 14:32 Uhr Seite 11