Tuesday, 30 March 2010

In Praise of Hoarding

I have never watched more than a fragment of the Antiques Roadshow, nor for that matter Cash in the Attic or any of their ilk. I am nonetheless enormously pleased that such programmes exist, for the simple reason that they encourage certain behaviours.

Running since 1979, the Antiques Roadshow is a salutary reminder that television has been doing 'user generated content' for an awfully long time, and like all television of the 'audience participation' sort, its success depends upon persuading its audience that they too can be on television, if only they carry out some mundane task with enough dedication. In this case, the particular behaviour being encouraged is collecting, or perhaps more precisely hoarding.
It may seem strange to hear someone - a blogger no less - celebrating the gentle art of hoarding in these increasingly immaterial times. Aren't we all nomadic Deleuzians these days, riding an infomatic wave of pure immanence down a diagonal line of flight? Mustn't we, like Bruce Sterling in his recent short story for Icon magazine, "transcend yesterday's stifling consumer clutter" ? "Freedom is just another word for nothing", n'est pas? And wasn't all that acquisitiveness just a symptom of capitalism's irresistible seductions anyway?

I'm not necessarily talking about acquiring anything here though. No-one on Antiques Roadshow has gone out and bought anything - or at least I presume not. Surely the premise, at least implied in a title such as 'Cash in the Attic' is that this stuff was just lying around. Someone simply failed to throw it away.
We should be grateful to the collectors in our midst for they are like material historians. The archeologists of the future are unlikely to be piecing together our culture and society from flash sticks and external hard drives, but rather from comics, coins, nodding dogs, and Star Wars figures, from items of furniture and objets d'art, travel ephemera and false limbs. As one letter writer to Building Design recently put it, we may just be sleepwalking our way into a new Dark Ages. When everything lives in a cloud, nothing rests on firm foundations.

So digital information is fragile, ephemeral, and yet paradoxically, it is also diabolically permanent. In a sense, wandering around the web is like walking the streets with wet paint on the soles of your feet. Everywhere you go, you leave a mark, a trace, that can lead back to your precise location and identity. And that trace is virtually indelible (of course there is the odd way round such things - although police claim, even here there is a limit to one's supposed freedom).
Incidentally, the theme tune to Cash in the Attic is a pretty good example of what I have recently taken to calling 'D'n'BBC', to refer to the way certain rhythms appropriated from the hardcore continuum have, amongst purveyors of library music, become general all-purpose signifiers for 'youth' and 'edginess' in everything from political thrillers (the BBC's State of Play, for example), to advertisements for washing up liquid.