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11belfast Coho Mitchell Mpbn vgaSenator George Mitchell broke ground in November for Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, the sustainable community on the coast of Maine that has been called “the future of housing.”

Still Water Co-Directors Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito are founding members of the Ecovillage, along with 20 other families dedicated to this self-developed and self-financed neighborhood. Its home design won the 2011 LEED Project of the Year.

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10belfast Coho Proto Night ill

For the past several years, Still Water Co-Director Joline Blais has been working with two dozen other families to found Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage. Now the prototype home for this self-developed, self-financed community on the coast of Maine has been declared 2011 Project of the Year by the US Green Building Council.

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Still Water’s co-directors are in the news this month in articles about an online song-and-story sampler and crowdfunding for indie movie projects.

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Pool Project Contributors illThe Pool is one of the software packages showcased in Trebor Scholz’s 2011 anthology Learning Through Digital Media: Experiments in Technology and Pedagogy, along with Facebook, Tumblr, and Second Life. Available as a printed or eBook, the text surveys “how both ready-at-hand proprietary platforms and open-source tools can be used to create situations in which all learners actively engage each other and the teacher to become more proficient, think in more complex ways, gain better judgment, become more principled and curious, and lead distinctive and productive lives.”

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Star Wars Trek Lego Starship smaHow to get your work featured in Wired, BoingBoing, and by not following directions.

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Thoughtmesh Logo smaAccording to Colin Kloecker at the Walker Art Center, ThoughtMesh and The Pool are good tools for a healthy commons. He profiled these two open-source Still Water networks in a post leading up to the kickoff of the Walker’s Open Field initiative last June.

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Two recent stories on conserving contemporary art speak to how removed museums and foundations are from the “proliferative preservation” of digital creators. The New York Observer writes about a Whitney Museum taskforce created to police the replication of art via exhibition copies, and their headline says it all: Copy That! Wait, Don’t.

Meanwhile an article from The New York Times, How to Conserve Art That Lives in a Lake?, revisits the conservation issues of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, which following a period of high water levels in the Great Salt Lake re-emerged encrusted with salt.

Authors of both articles raise some fundamental questions about conservation:

“What counts as a replica? Who has the authority to produce one?” (NY Observer)

“And if any conservation plans were to go forward, then the really complicated work would begin: trying to figure out what Mr. Smithson would have thought about it.” (NY Times)

As noted by Berkeley’s Richard Rinehart, these are among the exact questions asked by the Variable Media Questionnaire, whose third iteration is being built by Still Water under the aegis of the Forging the Future alliance.

Rinehart and I are also co-authoring a book from MIT Press with the working title of New Media and Social Memory, which speaks to the issue of proliferative preservation. The New York Times reports that some visitors to the Spiral Jetty “borrowed” some of its stones to make tiny jetties of their own, or in one case to spell out the word BEER.

Regardless of how you may feel about this “contamination” of Smithson’s work by the hands of ordinary viewers, New Media and Social Memory argues that digital media allow a both/and preservation dynamic. If they were digital artifacts, both Bob Smithson’s and Bob Schmo’s version of Spiral Jetty could co-exist peaceably.

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Wired LogoAuthor and ephemeral-media expert Bruce Sterling noted the launch of the Forging the Future Web site last week in his blog for Wired magazine, Beyond the Beyond.

As the originator of the famed “Dead Media List,” Sterling knows more than just about anybody about the problem of technical amnesia. Acknowledging the speedy obsolescence of contemporary digital formats, Sterling asks:

You know why people don’t shout this from rooftops? Because this forced obsolescence used to pay the computer industry handsomely. Yes, it used to. Now you look at the half-collapsed squelette full of scary, echoing absences and, yes, “Gothic High Tech.”

Exactly why we need to move beyond short-term technical fixes and toward longer-term paradigms of preservation. Of course, Forging the Future aims to offer tools as well as hope, as Sterling notes:

They’re not just mournfully Utopianizing! God bless ’em, they’re trying to build stuff!

With luck, we won’t let Bruce down.

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