Ok. So I download a lot of comics illegally via the Pirate Bay. (Let’s not get into the ethical issues of illegal downloading right now….) Now scanning is a lot of work. One of my professors, Sarah Roberts, has done research on how for the Google Book project sometimes a finger is accidentally scanned in with the images of the book. This reminds us that there are workers, human beings, scanning and making digital copies of these books. Somebody is doing the endlessly repetitive and boring task of turning the page, scanning, turning the page, scanning, turning the page…etc.
Sarah calls these fingers, these mistakes, “human traces”. For they forcefully remind us of the human being who allowed us to view this book. Now imagine if other items we bought had more human traces? There is already a huge market for ‘fair trade’ and other more independently produced items like hand sewn sweaters, candles, or more charity or ‘ local bake saleish’ items, that make their sales purely based on the fact that they have human traces. But imagine if there were human traces for mass produced items like cars, fast food, cell phones…etc.
It would change how we experience them. How we consumed or used them would change drastically.
The human traces Google Books allows us to get past the mass delusion we have that, as Sarah says, that machines create everything, and allow us to remember there is a human life behind this who may be being exploited or may as well be flourishing (though the former is probably more likely).
We have all come across those viral photos of notes or messages in cheap dollar store crap that factory workers somehow got by their employers. These human traces remind us there is a human cost for everything we buy.
Now, illegal comic book scanners aren’t getting paid to scan. They do it for a whole host of reasons: to promote, to be recognized, to gain status…etc. When you scan comics illegally though, you often don’t get much acknowledgement. So comic book scanners have taken to including their names or logos in their scans.
These aren’t their real names of course. But they often design a cool logo or picture that allows scanners to identify them and appreciate the scan job. Hell, some scanners even use scanning as a chance to promote their own art and creations. I’ve come across multiple comic scans where this happens. It’s really freaking cool.
The ‘human trace’ that got me to create this bog post was a memoriam to dead friend. The comic scanner included a page at the end of his illegally scanned reproduction with a picture of a dock on a serene lake and a profound quote. They dedicated this scan to a close friend who just died and had been a fan of the comic.
Illegally uploading and scanning has become an art form in its own right. Remember that Seinfeld episode where Jerry becomes an artistic bootlegger? Illegally filming movies in such a way that his copyright infringing copies are in high demand?
I don’t really have time to examine the implications or revelations that these “scanner logos’ or added creations bring. But hopefully you can see just how academically fascinating this is.
A few more examples. (I dug into this as much as I could). There is a big market for illegal streaming of events. Especially sports. Most of our younger generation doesn’t have cable and there is still no affordable or inclusive way to stream most sports online, so often we turn to illegal streams. There are some pretty popular illegal streamers who do interesting artistic things with their streams.
For instance, often during commercials many streamers will change their stream to something more interesting for the viewer to watch. Some streamers have become very popular for their choice of movies or TV shows they choose to play during their stream. Watchers keep coming back to these streamers because of the content and experience they offer.
One more example. I recently downloaded (illegally again, sorry) the Childish Gambino album “Because Internet”. Now on it there is a song called “Life: The Biggest Troll”. While I was listening to it, it all of sudden went silent halfway through, out of nowhere, and remained silent for the last 3 minutes or so of the song. I thought at the time Gambino was ‘trolling’ us here because of the name of the song. I thought, “Oh that’s pretty cool I guess, kind of annoying, but funny”.
A few months later I discovered that the song does not cut out at the point. The uploader who I downloaded from had made it cut out there. Thus I got trolled pretty hard (and pretty perfectly) by an uploader. The name of the song had just made me assume in was part of song. Brilliant. Best example of trolling I’ve seen.
Of course, I wanted to complain! But I had downloaded this song illegally and trusted an anonymous uploader to give me the exact copy. I had no right to complain.
By trolling me, the uploader had gotten me thinking about how we treat illegal anonymous uploaders. Shouldn’t they be allowed to experiment creatively when they are providing us a free service? Aren’t such creative endeavors worth the price of getting a free copy? Shouldn’t the price of such creative endeavors perhaps be necessary?
But yah. Cool stuff here. Hope you all agree. Hopefully I will be coming back to this topic. If anyone has experienced similar “pirate human traces” please share your experiences below
Interesting interview with an illegal comic scanner here