It’s been a long time since I blogged. Keeping up with my teaching while researching and writing my own pieces for my Masters is keeping me very busy. This may be quite a lengthy hiatus …

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forgetting in the digital age


I was excited to read this book and it began well. It’s an interesting observation that in externalising memory the net radically changes what was once an internal and selective process.  Borges short story Funes, the memorious sets the context; the tale of a character with perfect memory who cannot forget. Mayer-Schönberger begins ‘once we have perfect memory … we are no longer able to generalise and abstract, and so remain lost in the details of our past’ (p.12)

Memory is primarily a (re)constructive process of storage and recall and Mayer-Schönberger reminds us that ‘the effort needed for a narrative to be remembered acts a potent filtering mechanism’ (p.26). In the digital environment no effort is required; with relatively limitless storage and easy, immediate retrieval we no longer need to remember for ourselves. Increasingly events and information are stored without filter, evaluation or context and without the sort of meaning that pure metadata can provide. Data is not memory.

Delete then spends a lot of time discussing the relatively low cost of storage and retrieval and how this makes it easy to shift the default from forgetting to remembering. A few mundane case studies are provided to illustrate the pitfalls of revealing too much on the web. In chapter 5 Mayer-Schönberger suggests a number of ways we might program our technology to ‘forget’ or delete on a schedule, how we should have more power over our digital privacy to practising regular digital abstinence and engaging in ‘cognitive adjustment.’ This is where I found myself drifting. There’s already so much fascinating stuff published in this area. I’m less interested in the effects of digital culture on the citizens relationship to the state than I am in the effects upon our sense of self and identity.

Delete asks the questions without really exploring these issues far enough. We’re not just discussing how big players like google are storing our information for demographic and marketing purposes. How searching and browsing behaviour does not retrieve ‘memories’. It’s also revealing to reflect on how much we are engaging in our own ‘lifeblogging’. How full are our personal hard drives of documents and photos we will never realistically have the time to view, edit and honour? How much of this data are we sharing on the net? Deleting it from our facebook feed removes it from view but it may have already been shared and it can continue to be reproduced and remixed; that is (re)contextualised and (de)contextualised. What challenges do our digital public identities pose to our internal sense of self.

This morning I came upon this article in my The Browser feed ‘Autumn of the patriarch, forgetting to live’ by Aaron Bady (The New Inquirer, July 9, 2012) reflecting on Gabriel García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude. It seemed sadly serendipitous given the recent news that Gabriel García Márquez is now suffering from the memory loss that accompanies dementia.

Bady counsels ‘You are supposed to forget. You are supposed to get confused. You are supposed to blur different characters together, mix up timelines, be surprised to find that you’re not quite sure who is who. The last thing you are ever supposed to do is keep everything straight.

He continues, ‘To say that memory can deceive us is to perpetrate a dull cliche, however, and this is not the point. Instead, I would put it to you that the point is this: forgetfulness is what saves us, what gives us a second chance. Those who forget the past are not condemned to repeat it, but the reverse is true. Only those who forget the past will ever free themselves from it.

In the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude Aureliano Babilonia suddenly “became aware that he was unable to bear in his soul the crushing weight of so much past”

…  the great patriarch of the Buendía clan becomes old and begins to lose his faculties — when he begins to behave erratically, dangerously — his family ties him to a chestnut tree in the yard, and there he lives until he dies. But José Arcadio Buendía does not lose his memory. He loses to it. He starts to die when he begins to remember too much.

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sentimentalising the book

i had an interesting conversation with some friends on facebook this week in response to the flying books of morris lessmore (best animated short at the academy awards). it’s a beautiful animation but it’s popularity does raise some great questions. one of the best responses was on james bradley’s city of tongues blog

‘I suspect what’s actually being celebrated is the idea of the books themselves. Nobody’s suggesting we actually engage with Poe or Dickens or Melville, they’re just suggesting we feel a quick inner glow at the thought of them… Coupled with the fetishisation of the technology of the physical book and the library it’s a strangely pernicious brew. Because if we want books and reading to survive and continue to thrive the single worst thing we can do is turn them into Hallmark card symbols of past certainty. What we need to be doing is emphasising the energy and ambition of contemporary writers, and developing new cultures of reading. And call me cranky, but I find it difficult to see how sentimentalising the past does that’.

my post was written partly in response to having just read some pretty elitist and simplistic comments made by franzen in the guardian jonathan franzen warns ebooks are corroding values

‘Jonathan Franzen has spoken of his fear that ebooks will have a detrimental effect on the world – and his belief that serious readers will always prefer print editions. And about ebooks ‘That kind of radical contingency [the delete button] is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.’

a very smart friend of mine weighed in with the following ‘the way that I read what he was saying was that without a tome of sanctioned examples about how we should behave towards one another we have ‘radical contingency’ or anarchy. His thesis is based on the assumption that we can’t self-govern responsibly without a book of rules… Paradigm shifts are always unsettling for those who have their identity tightly wound around classical forms..’

from my own point of view, i think i resent this reductive thinking that creates a dichotomous type of argument. print or screen, paper or monitor. that’s lame enough, but to then claim that our moral framework and intelligence depends upon such ‘certainties’ is just lazy thinking and a deliberately provocative oversimplification. it is, to quote james bradley “a pernicious brew.” it also takes me back to my post reflecting on gopnik’s article how the internet gets inside us and his excellent quote

Thoughts are bigger than the things that deliver them.

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everything is a remix & the death of the author

lots of thoughts colliding about this at the moment. i love the ‘everything is a remix’ series and it neatly weaves into some of my previous posts. in one of my posts on curation i referred to maria popova’s article in a new age of informational abundance, content curation is a new form of authorship where she suggests that as we share and remix information through our social networks we are as much creators as consumers. but where is the line for authorship and intellectual property in this new environment?

this week i came across an essay by david foster wallace ‘greatly exaggerated’ (1992) in a supposedly fun thing i’ll never do again: essays and arguments (1998). the essay is a review of H.L. Hix’s book Morte d’Author: An Autopsy which attempts to summarise the poststucturalist/decontructivist argument for the ‘death of the author’. old twentieth century critical theory finds relevance again. did it ever really go away? until the poststructuralists in the 1960’s (Barthes, Foucault, Derrida…) challenged the idea, the author was seen as the ‘owner’ of a text and had the right to determine and impose it’s meaning. The poststructuralists argued that once a text was in the world, the author had no control over the audiences reading of it and the meanings they attributed to it. that of course, is true. but the question always was should we as readers be held to the authors intentions or are we free to create our own? (i could easily be sidetracked and tempted to include satre and existentialism here, but i’ll try to limit myself). are we being disrespectful in this process? do authors really care? some authors have asked ‘do we really have to mean what we say?’. is it really a binary argument and does it really matter?

it does matter when we come back to the idea of remix culture and intellectual property. remix culture is collaborative. there are multiple authors where the text (or image, music) is manipulated by a collective voice with multiple versions. the ‘creation’ can be in a state of constant change with no clear singular meaning or author-ity in the traditional sense.

perhaps the question differs slightly when we consider works of fiction as opposed to ‘information’. we have no difficulty in accepting that ‘truth’ is contingent in the fictive world but we have difficulty holding this idea where ‘facts’ are concerned. in what the internet means for how we think about the world The Atlantic, Jan 5 2012 rebecca rosen, author of too big to know suggests

… for the coming generation, knowing looks less like capturing truths … than engaging in never-settled networks of discussion and argument. That social activity — collaborative and contentious, often at the same time — is a more accurate reflection of our condition as imperfect social creatures trying to understand a world that is too big and too complex for even the biggest-headed expert.

when questioned about the effect of networked knowledge on objectivity and facts, rosen refers back to the postmodernists

the dominant (or soon to be dominant) medium is free of the old limitations … Our new medium is, of course, wildly connective. Now we can explore beyond the news rectangle just by clicking. There is no longer an imperative to squeeze the world into small, self-contained boxes. Hyperlinks remove the limitations that objectivity was invented to address.

but she does believ that Knowledge will always find patterns that apply across particulars. (The equating of knowledge with universals is a different matter.)

Here’s a taste of everything is a remix: part 4

This is evolution. Copy, transform and combine.

And culture evolves in a similar way, but the elements aren’t genes, they’re memes — ideas, behaviors, skills. Memes are copied, transformed, and combined. And the dominant ideas of our time are the memes that spread the most.

This is social evolution.

Copy, transform and combine. It’s who we are, it’s how we live, and of course, it’s how we create. Our new ideas evolve from the old ones.

But our system of law doesn’t acknowledge the derivative nature of creativity. Instead, ideas are regarded as property, as unique and original lots with distinct boundaries.

But ideas aren’t so tidy. They’re layered, they’re interwoven, they’re tangled. And when the system conflicts with the reality… the system starts to fail.

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the power of networks

Manuel Lima. this guy is my new crush. great talk with something for everyone. ‘the power of networks’. for the librarian: dewey to wikipedia; for the geeks and artists: fractals and pollack. from tree metaphors to webs, simplicity/complexity, patterns/chaos ‘orderly complexity’. what a guy!

check out the website too. beautiful stuff!

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Carved book landscapes

beautiful work by Guy Laramee

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I’m back. After coming to the realisation that my more intellectual musings were beginning to populate my facebook feed and bore some of my friends senseless. It seems that I do need a place to not just gather my links but reflect on them too.

I like to keep my online life neatly compartmentalised. Facebook is for friends, Twitter for my PLN and WordPress is mostly for myself. Today I found myself posting the following to FB and now I’m moving it to it’s proper place:

‘based on the evidence than none of my students knew anything about this last year (let alone what aggregating means), i’ve decided that in 2012 we’ll be discussing these ideas – a lot!

Eli Pariser, The filter bubble: what the internet is hiding from you
‘While we all worry that the Internet is eroding privacy or shrinking our attention spans, Pariser uncovers a more pernicious and far- reaching trend on the Internet … In a personalized world, we will increasingly be typed and fed only news that is pleasant, familiar, and confirms our beliefs-and because these filters are invisible, we won’t know what is being hidden from us. Our past interests will determine what we are exposed to in the future, leaving less room for the unexpected encounters that spark creativity, innovation, and the democratic exchange of ideas’. 

time to move on from the cyber utopian/dystopian debates of shirky and carr!’

and a few days earlier

‘Penguin plans to release 50 enhanced e-books and book apps this year, up from 35 in 2011. Projects in the works include an enhanced biography of Malcolm X with video footage, rare photos and an interactive map of historic Harlem … Knopf released an enhanced version of Joan Didion’s “Blue Nights” this month, with three short films featuring the author discussing her daughter’s life and death. Blowing up the book: a new crop of digital books comes loaded with videos, songs, animated shorts and pop-up graphics. Is this the future of publishing? Alter, A The Wall Street Journal, January 20, 2012.

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