Like bunnies; the multiplicity of the digitally witnessed moment

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Jennifer Chen

What is it that a screen does as intermediary between the witness and the moment? What happens as the act is captured, and given a new beginning and end, new dramatic beats and punctuation?

When the act has been captured, what happens to the veracity of the compressed act, its components split and sent as separate packages?

Knowing that these few transfiguration happen, not even what they do, what implications does this have for the documentarian? Even with the understanding that they have the privilege (or burden) of choosing when a moment is born how do they reckon with the ability to watch the moment on mute, or as a gif? The is moment reformed in the screen, more or less, with captions maybe, and an ident at the beginning or a watermark. The witness receives it a couple of inches across or stretched across the side of a building and then a second documentarian might capture that moment and then whats become of the first one?

I say capturing, but more accurately I mean subdue – as it will take off bounding down the street and start reproducing as soon as look at you. I tell you, no one will be agile enough to catch up to it, let alone compare it to how it looks now compared to before it was squished and stretched and reformed and everything. Not the the documentarian, the witness, the other documentarian or the moments offspring, nor even the bystanders of the thing that happened in the first place.

And don’t even get me started on the archivist. First you have to round up all the baby moments and split them into packages again to save them in some form– which is really just breeding them. Then you have to give them names, or try and get them in some semblance of order which just creates more babies. Someone will come and want to come and see the moments which really just enables the moments to mingle and network and shag and make more versions of themselves. Someone will want to restore one that doesn’t look as expected and there pops out another six. You can’t stop them – they’re like rabbits.

I was watching a film with a friend recently who speaks English as a second language. We watched a film in English with English subtitles. We noticed after a little while that the words spoken by the actors were not the same as the subtitles. Someone said something like, ‘Come in, take a seat why don’t you’, and the subtitles read ‘Sit down’. The two versions of speech had very distinct tonal differences and it sent us reeling. We couldn’t finish the thing. If it were dubbed too, I don’t think we would have recovered. But I mean if we can’t keep a scripted moment consistent, what hope in hell do we have of accurately subduing, packaging and sharing a moment found in the wild. I think we may have to resign ourselves to letting them roam free, and to reach the next witness with whatever battle scars they’ve picked up. Probably the most we can do is tag them.

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