Thursday, December 18, 2003

Towards The Forgetting Machine

I spent an hour writing a post this morning and then Blogger went down and I lost it. I hate when that happens. So here we go again.

Fabio writes about memory, forgetting and new technologies - and has many of the same concerns I do. (I'm told great minds think alike, amico mio ;)

Since the 80s, social and cultural studies have looked more closely at memory, forgetting and power - and Fabio is right to remind us that the past is only ever (re)created in the present. In other words, actual events are less important (less present) than our recollections of them - or as the old saying goes, history is written by the winners. (Just think of the differences between heritage - patrimoine - and history.)

When I was in Rome in the fall, I became more preoccupied than normal by the idea that machines might unforgivingly record and store all memories. What would we do if certain words or events were not allowed to pass? How would we, how could we, face the present, the future, ourselves and each other without the imprecision of human (social/cultural) memory? Can we even say that what machines remember is what we normally call our memories?

Nietzsche (sorry, I've been reading a lot of the guy lately) writes on history, memory and active forgetting - and reminds us that forgetting is not simply a failure of memory:

"Forgetting is not simply a kind of inertia, as superficial minds tend to believe, but rather the active faculty to ... provide some silence, a 'clean slate' for the unconscious, to make place for the new... those are the uses for what I have called an active forgetting..."

"If something is to stay in the memory it must be burned in: only that which never ceases to hurt stays in the memory."

When I was at UbiComp, surrounded by examples of ubiquitous and merciless memory, I again wondered about the differences between dementia (as forced forgetfulness), nostalgia (as voluntary forgetfulness) and hope (as necessary forgetfulness).

More recently, my explorations and experiments in networked objects have led to me to begin building what I call THE FORGETTING MACHINE - updates will become more frequent in the dead of the Canadian winter when staying at home and playing with electronics seems more fun than going outside.

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