In late June, Google deleted writer Dennis Cooper’s blog The Weaklings (and his Gmail account that includes literary correspondence) without explanation. Electric Literature is the latest of several outlets to cover Google’s as-yet-unexplained action, which is tantamount to intellectual property theft, censorship, and, well, just plain bad form. While Cooper works in several different media (print books, GIFs, film, and blog), he has lost over ten years of his blog’s work, including an unpublished GIF novel. The blog featured Cooper’s daily writing and promoted independent literature, music, and culture. As someone who has thrown my lot in with Google—I own a Chromebook, use apps like Chrome, Gmail, Drive, Calendar, Keep, Docs, Sheets, and Translate, not to mention search function daily—Cooper’s loss hits close to home and leads to plenty of thinking about what it might mean.
While Nate Hoffelder in Cloud Storage claims Cooper is at fault and he should have backed up his blog’s content, the blog is part of an era in contemporary literature (circa 1999 when Blogger started through 2013 when Google Reader was phased out) when technology (emails, listservs, blogs, and social media) rapidly changed what it meant to be a practicing writer and how literary production and dissemination take place. The medium matters: Cooper’s blog, to my mind, intends to be a blog, which brings up more questions.
What is the value of authorial intention with respect to media, when the media is contingent on technologies beyond the author’s control for its existence for both producing and disseminating content? Cooper’s latest troubles cast a dubious shadow on claims of more access to authorship that accompanied the rise of (free) applications that writer’s use to create content that they expect to have some longevity.
How does the removal of Cooper’s blog relate to conceptualism? In the prevailing model of conceptualism, there is an author-generated concept and then, usually, an art object or text that results from the concept’s conditions, but the experience of the concept is not predicated upon interaction with the object or text. Now, with the total removal of Cooper’s blog in the medium readers had come to engage it, the blog has been made a forced or ex post facto work of conceptual art, in that it exists now only the idea of what it was before it was deleted.
How do the rapid developments in technology destabilize fields like literature and journalism, both of which have become so prone to lossiness? With print as the dominant mode of information dissemination for so long, it has given readers certain ideas about the fixity and stability of set type, whether experienced on the page or the screen. The difference is that all the technologies required to produce a printed object only need to come together to perform their function once or in one instance to create an object that lasts for several generations, at least beyond the lifespan of a typical person.
Digital information production and dissemination has the problem of continual, ongoing dependence on an array of interconnected technologies, as well as the will of the corporations and organizations that develop and maintain those technologies (see Google Reader above), to match the fixity, stability, and longevity of print. The digital is a diachronic instance—oxymoronic—which makes for difficulties. If just one technology breaks or one company folds or moves on from its commitment to develop and maintain a type of technology, loss is inevitable.
The information age is simultaneously rich and fleeting. It seems from my vantage point that as many people are needed to archive and maintain what already exists digitally as there are people working on the developing the new, but this work is less sexy, less profitable, less desirable. Perhaps the biggest question might be: Will the entropy caused by the rapid development in digital text technologies and the interdependence of these technologies on one another to keep information available eventually lead to a pastless future, a dark age illuminated by lossiness, the flameouts of a diachronic instance that doesn’t have the resources to persist?