Physicality and Time in the Digital Archive

The Stolen Time Archive is an incredibly dynamic archive, one that requires the users to engage with the material in order to access it. Its requirement for engagement on the part of the researcher left me quite confused at first. Every other archive I’ve ever accessed has been pretty straightforward, whether digital or physical. With The Stolen Time Archive, though, the user has to “Launch Project” in order to access any of the archived pieces. The idea of having to create a project in order to access the archive was totally foreign to me—but really fun, once I figured it out.

In spite of its unusually demanding level of user interaction, The Stolen Time Archive embodies many of the same archival concepts as those we’ve been discussing. On the most basic level, Stolen Time is a collection of pieces of history, just like any other archive. The particular types of pieces in this collection are office worker ephemera. However, Stolen Time collects more than just this ephemera—it also collects and records every place your cursor moves while working on a specific project. This feature adds an interesting element of time to the archive. It reminds the researcher that he/she is an active part of the archive. The researcher, depending on what he/she does with the information researched, has the potential to change the way that the ephemera are understood (especially if the information is used to create a secondary site, such as our Waste Land wiki. The recorded cursor movements also add physicality in a way that I’ve never experienced with a digital archive.  Seeing the cursor movements reminded me that I was physically interacting with the documents in the archive, even though a keyboard, touchpad, and screen were all necessary intermediaries to allow the interaction to happen.

In terms of sheer ease of use, Stolen Time isn’t the most effective. As far as I can tell, it’s impossible to search for a specific item. Instead, the user just has to play around with the program. However, as an interactive experiment in archiving theory, Stolen Time is incredibly effective. It forces the user to think about the method of digital archiving in a way that most digital archives do not require.


I'm really interested in your comment that this projects promotes the idea that the reader/observer is a part of the archive. I wrote about the similarities between the archive and an art museum, where it merely exists to provide experience. In that way, I think I contradicted you because I feel like there is a clear division between the work of art and the viewer! I certainly don't disagree with you though, and it reminds me of some of our discussion from Marangoni's class about the interpretation of the viewer making the art art. 

This idea of physicality really interests me; especially tracking mouse movements. While digital media often seem immaterial, there's absolutely a material infrastructure supporting them (and a book on my shelf - Tubes - that I keep meaning to read) and we must interact with this infrastructure in order to access the information. We've discussed how people read online differently - skimming, noticing sidebars, etc - compared to how they read books; mouse movement seems like it could be a really fruitful avenue for exploring.

I think you make a really good point Katie, one that I did not originally see. The effectiveness of the archive lies in its interactions with the user. Perhaps, I was using too narrow of a scope to observe the effectiveness.