Lightcone as cultural interface and memory

Wow. What a pretentious title for a post! Let me explain myself a little. I’ve been playing around with Webb’s excellent little Lightcone thing, in the hopes of incorporating it somewhere. I’d been thinking about our “cultural lightcone” a couple of years back when I joined the BBC again.

Cultural lightcone?

If you remember the Carl Sagan book / film “Contact”, it plays with the idea of a cultural lightcone: that the alien intelligences have encountered our radio waves as they travel out at the speed of light towards them, and let us know by playing us back video of Hitler.

This from the nicely old-fashioned the offical movie site:

“Humans have actually been sending messages to the stars since the discovery of radio almost 100 years ago and the first television broadcasts earlier this century.

This means that among the first interstellar notices of our existence were the original episodes of I Love Lucy, first broadcast around 40 years ago. By now Lucy and Desi have travelled 40 light years into our surrounding neighborhood, an area inhabited by roughly 100 stars.”

I quickly sketched a little screen of a cultural lightcone, based on the BBC’s archive:

Here we see a 1975 episode of Dr. Who gliding by Vega.

The idea I had in my head was that this starscape would be simulated on a interactive (maybe flash-based?) client screensaver, which was grabbing and displaying the stars, media objects as they got located in the lightcone, and comments of others who had downloaded the connected-screensaver: memories of the programmes or other stuff that had happened that year. A kind of grid-blogging effort with the media as a mnemonic device to unlock people’s recollections of those years: a bit like a giant distributed version of the BBC’s I Love… series; and the starfield as a nice, vaguely poetic and attractive organising glue to the whole thing.

Other cool effects would be that as you got closer to our home, Sol; then stuff start to get really hectic, as the media output I guess has grown an awful lot over the 75 odd (light)years of BBC broadcasting; and the grid-blogging would start to resemble real time commentary on media…

Also, if it was truly decentralised, ie. the BBC just released the client and the initial media nodes and clips it would be fantastic – people would weave their recollection of Auntie between them and upload their own encodings of lost episodes or shortform clips that meant something special – and it would exist as long as someone had one of the client running… copying an un-burnable library ad infinitum…

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