Cyberconialism, Collaboration and Private vs. Public Interests — Notes from the 1st meeting of FSU Digital Scholars, Spring 2016

During the first meeting of FSU Digital Scholars, we started discussion by attempting to define the nature of cybercolonialism, we continued discussion by trying to articulate the nature of collaboration in both private product-based endeavors and public project-based endeavors and towards the tail end of our discussion, we utilized evaluation of the private social network Academia.edu as a way to discuss the need for more effective tools for the sharing of scholarship across the disciplines.

To back up a little, the discussion of cybercolonialism was spurred by our reading of Mary Leigh Morbey’s “Killing a Culture Softly: Corporate partnership with a Russian museum,” which was published in Museum Management and Curatorship in 2006. In addition to Morbey’s article, group members had also read this post by Juliane Nyhan and Oliver Duke Williams, this post by Dominico Fiormonte, and viewed this animation of 17th century London by Josh Jones. In Morbey’s article, she describes a partnership between Global IBM and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg Russian, wherein IBM offered information communications technology (ICT) services to the museum. Global IBM designed a sophisticated website for the Hermitage Museum but as Morbey argues, IBM controlled the design and the implementation of the website in a way that exemplifies “cybercolonialism.” Morbey proposes that “cyberglocalization” or ICT practices that focus on incorporating local influences be embraced going forward.

The question was posed in regards to what more specific examples of “cybercolonialism” look like or in the case of Morbey’s article, what was decidedly “un-Russian” about what IBM was doing? Group members articulated that Morbey was pointing to the control of access and literacy regarding the technologies more so than smaller level design choices. The notion that IBM would create an ICT property and then charge those that are ill-equipped with the usage of the technology could be problematic.

The conversation turned towards the nature of collaboration. Group members questioned the boundaries of collaboration in private product-based endeavors and public project-based endeavors. The question was raised, “How do we think about the labor index?” especially when some projects require thousands of hours of tedious labor. Also, in terms of collaborative balance, “What is or should be our architecture?” One characteristic of digital humanities scholarship that was re-iterated was the need for cross-disciplinary collaboration, both in terms of scholarship, but also in terms of labor. Collaboration is constrained by the need to pay those across disciplines who are often out of the pay-scale for many publically funded projects.

In regards to collaboration tools, a discussion of Academia.edu began that was inspired by these a post by Kathleen Fitzpatrick titled, “Academia not edu,” and by this forum discussion. The group established the need for tools for DH scholars to share information across disciplines, but voiced concerns about the private business interests behind Academia.edu, but the group also voiced concerns that other tools might not be utilized enough to create adequate viability.

Time ran before the group could get to discussions of the “bell curve” of hype, but it was clear that questions of cybercolonialism, collaboration and private vs public interests in the digital humanities will continue throughout the semester.

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