Saturday, November 27, 2004

Digital traces

Issue 18: GHOST is the last issue of the journal HorizonZero - or rather a final performance before it changes shape.

Bruce Sterling writes On Dead Media and Never Realized Media Histories:

"I would like to convince you that, although it does have many arcane and fantastic aspects, the subject of dead media is not a remote one. Media obsolescence is an ongoing civilizational process with broad implications that ought to be intimately familiar to anyone in this room. People involved in digital culture have made our bed, and now we are lying in it. We imagined that our bed was a clean, abstract, mathematical, Euclidean , platonic, computer science, rational, electronic kind of bed. But we were deceiving ourselves. The bed of digital culture is a very rumpled, dirty, makeshift, anarchic kind of bed. It smells of viruses and worms. And it is surrounded by vast, ever growing heaps of our discarded trash. The sheets are owned by other people, and they want us to rent that mattress by the hour. The digital media industry - the computer industry - looks and acts a whole lot like other forms of highly polluting, poorly regulated industries. It's got robber barons, and corruption and pollution, and rampant speculation, and, well, many other classical technical phenomena that one can easily recognize from the wildcat boom days of aviation, or automobiles, or railroads, or nuclear power ... We lack a good methodology with which to recognize our technology's engagement with the passage of time. We lack a proper long-term view. And this lack of insight leads us to repeat ourselves..."

And Hervé Fischer muses On the Sophisticated Fragility of Digitized Memory:

"The 'proper forms' of the associations and configurations of ideas or references which traditionally produced meaning (if only at an elementary behaviourist level of thought) are diluted and disappear in the leaps of the hypertext, becoming nothing more than heaps of knowledge fragments, granules that can be detached from the things to which they are tied. This new paradigm of information and thought in fragmented capsules, in detached pieces which can be endlessly recombined according to chance or necessity (another paradigm of modern science), imperils the stability of memory. This destructuring of meaning, of the 'proper forms' of associative logic, corresponds to our new mental structures in the digital age, but also to the present day patchwork or hybridization of cultures. In addition, it contributes to the dissolution of forms of memory, much like the reduction of cathedrals to unnumbered bricks or stones, by rendering superficial memory fragile. Syntax is a structure that is essential to memory, whether superficial, rational, or biographical (as Marcel Proust illustrated so well in In Search of Lost Time): it is, precisely, what the non-linearity of the hypertext destroys. Memory does not proceed by the accumulation or collage of fragments, but according to a structuring, aggregative grammar; according to already-visited configurations. It is like reading: up to a certain point, it is complete. The fragmentation of knowledge and memory go together. This brings into play a post-rationalist cognitive revolution, expressing the crisis of postmodernity. It may be audaciously creative, but it is also very risky..."

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