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Memory, forgetting, PKD and blogs

(from sept 2006)

(This is an old article from sept 2006 which never got published because I was too lazy. I think it’s still relevant, so I’ll post it now, slightly edited. Twitter makes a case in point.)

I’ve lately been trying to find some interesting scientific/culture-studies-type-of books on memory, more specifically on how individuals or groups of people live and experience reality, then collectively remember or forget only to relive (often nostalgic) the “same” reality again later through memories.

There seemingly exist very few accessible and interesting books on this subject. Recommendations?

I’ll stick to the works of Philip K. Dick for the moment, whose book “A Scanner Darkly” was recently made into a film by Richard Linklater. He emphasised the importance of memory on what we see as reality (the idea is that we often have ‘false’ memories).

Words, images, films have the power to capture the moment, in very different ways, taking away some of the subjectivity of our memories. All blogs taken together (“blogosphere”), can be seen as a collective and interlinked memory made available to everyone.

In a Discovery article written a year ago, Steven Johnson mentions the evolution of photography from a complicated chemical process to a commonplace technology as an important step towards the creation of a visual collective memory. Johnson then goes on to show how Gordon Bell from Microsoft tries to capture and archive as much as possible of his life digitally in a project called MyLifeBits. For life, 1TB free hard disk recommended.

Now, imagine a fully networked society in which each individual captures their own life plus that of their friends.

The (recent) past, neatly categorised in decades, often evokes stereotypical images. We somehow “know” or imagine how it must have been, through books, photos, films, our own memories or memories of other people. Now if we could just look at a snapshot of the past?

Last weekend I was looking at some old family photos, my grand-grand parents, fading away in black and white. In 100 years (web X.0?) we (or the following generations) will be looking at flickr, more specificallyat the snapshot of it taken at the beginning of the 21st century.