Cultural Heritage Asynchronous Research Grid Environment.


This page is a sub-page of our page on Asynchronous Public Service.


Related KMR-pages:

MATCH: MAthematical Transformations for Cultural Heritage


Other related sources of information:

Platform Capitalism
Jens Ganman debatterar SVT’s Jan Helin under SuperMecca i Stockholm,
YouTube 14 november 2019. “Våga Vägra Värdegrund”.


Cultural Heritage Asynchronous Research Grid Environment

[Text by Jan Nolin and Ambjörn Naeve, June 2013]

During most of the 20th century, the commercial production and distribution of cultural goods was balanced in most of the Western societies by strong public service institutions (public service TV, radio, libraries, archives and museums). The rationale underpinning public service institutions was diverse (Born and Prosser 2001). Primarily, services were produced that enhanced, developed and served social, political and cultural citizenship.
Most of those services were made available in the same form for all consumers (e.g., as in public service broadcasting or publishing or loans from libraries). Most of those services were consumed simultaneously (synchronously) by many people, e.g., as an audience for mass media, or for lectures. Only a few scholars or well-funded users could imagine to have personalized services to give them precisely the information they wanted, at a time that suited them.

The world of today is moving to a new model, in which information suited to you alone can be ready and waiting for you to interact with, when it is convenient to you. This is an example of an asynchronous (and personalized) service.

With the development of the Internet, the World Wide Web and social media, the context for public service institutions has been transformed in several ways. By and large, neither representatives of public service institutions nor scholars have been much reflective regarding the new situation and the need for rethinking challenges, strategies and technologies.

Cultural Heritage Asynchronous Research Grid Environment (CHARGE) is a research proposal that aims to aggregate and align strategic initiatives within research institutions and cultural heritage institutions. The starting point is to view cultural heritage institutions as public service institutions and that such institutions need to be rethought in the context of the so-called triple revolution, the Internet revolution, the social revolution and the mobile revolution of the digital age (Rennie and Wellman 2013).

CHARGE works with a specific emphasis within the transformation of the landscape for public service institutions: synchronous versus asynchronous dissemination of information. Traditionally, public-service institutions, like most other mass media, favor synchronous based delivery. However, Internet-based cultural consumption allows systematic development of asynchronous delivery. This is something that has not been discussed in earlier research on public service institutions.

An important backdrop to CHARGE is the crisis of public service in the 21st century. This is, in itself, a complex issue where, we argue, substantial dimensions are linked to a lack of interest and engagement with the potential of digital technologies in revitalizing the basic ideas of public service. CHARGE investigates, through various projects, the potential of reinventing public service institutions. We are particularly concerned with the utilization of asynchronous digital technology and discussions of the advantages and disadvantages compared to synchronous communication. CHARGE aims at exploring how public service institutions can benefit from shifting from a preoccupation with synchronous communication to digital Internet-based asynchronous public service.

There are several dimensions to the crisis of public service. One of the most basic problems is that public service is notoriously difficult to define (Jakubowicz 2000, Syvertsen 1999). It can be argued that the concept was defined in another political, technological and social context and as these have shifted, original definitions are of little current relevance (Moe 2011).

Traditionally, different public service institutions, such as various cultural heritage institutions, have found it doable to develop separate practices. However, due to the dramatic development of converging media forms and institutions since the breakthrough of the Internet (Jenkins 2008), this is no longer possible. Media convergence entails practices of TV linking to the Internet, the Internet linking to newspapers etc. An important feature of this development is that “new media” have not killed off “old media”, as was frequently feared during the 1990s. Instead, old and new media have tended to converge in a pattern of mutual linking and dependency. It is important to note that this has tended to integrate public service institutions with commercial media, making the distinction between these two forms of mass communication less clear. As there has been a tradition of holding apart various forms of public service institutions, there has been less marked convergence and collaboration between these.

Public service institutions can be divided into two categories: traditional, with roots in the 19th century (libraries, archives and museums), and mass media (TV and radio). Two kinds of public service mass media developed in parallel in the 1920s: advertisement-based commercial networks in the US and state-funded networks in the UK (Meikle and Young 2012). The British public service model rested on an odd consensus in the political debate. As Taylor (1965, 233) notes: “Conservatives liked authority; Labour disliked private enterprise”. In some countries, such as Sweden, public service TV and radio were developed into a broadcasting monopoly. However, with the development of Internet-based services, no public service monopoly has been able to survive in Western democracies.

One of the major developments has been the evolution of user-generated content and the evolution of mass media from one-to-many into many-to-many communications. In other words, mass communication can today take place between the masses. This changes the context for public service and some commentators have questioned the institution itself (Schlesinger 2008).

CHARGE aims to attend to the troubling situation that public service institutions have been slow in catching on to the need for citizens to produce, archive and distribute content. Instead, social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram have exploited this need. Since, on the face of it, these appear to be freely available services, social media platforms have in many ways functioned as traditional public service institutions. Nevertheless, customers have been paying through the delivery of personal data which then can be translated into various forms of commercial currencies (Turow 2012).

Furthermore, dominating social media platforms tend to hold a kind of monopoly position, eliminating the purely commercial (free market) situation where customers can freely choose between competing service providers (Patelis and Hatzopoulos 2013). Customers have little choice between Facebook and a competing social network site. This is similar to public libraries upholding a monopoly of lending books in a municipality.

CHARGE is committed to rethinking and repositioning cultural heritage institutions as public service institutions of the digital age. Although the original ideas are built on the potential of cultural heritage institutions, it will be fruitful to develop convergence with other public service institutions. In essence, the problems, lack of strategy and lack of tools, are similar for all. CHARGE aims to develop insights, tools, strategies and practices that facilitate both convergence within public service institutions and highly attractive asynchronous services for citizen-based content production, dissemination, archiving and consumption.

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