xeni_jardin's picture
Tech Culture Journalist; Partner, Contributor, Co-editor, Boing Boing; Executive Producer, host, Boing Boing Video
Ambient Memory And The Myth Of Neutral Observation

Like others whose early life experiences were punctuated with trauma, my memory has holes. Some of those holes are as wide as years. Others, just big enough to swallow painful incidents that lasted moments, but reverberated for decades.

The brain-record of those experiences sometimes submerges, then resurfaces, sometimes submerging again over time. As I grow older, stronger, and more capable of contending with memory, I become more aware of how different my own internal record may be from others who lived the identical moment.

Each of us commit our experiences to memory and permanence differently. Time and human experience are not linear, nor is there one and only one neutral record of each lived moment. Human beings are impossibly complex tarballs of muscle, blood, bone, breath, and electrical pulses that travel through nerves and neurons; we are bundles of electrical pulses carrying payloads, pings hitting servers. And our identities are inextricably connected to our environments: no story can be told without a setting.

My generation is the last generation of human beings who were born into a pre-internet world, but who matured in tandem with that great, networked hive-mind. In the course of my work online, committing new memories to network mind each day, I have come to understand that our shared memory of events, of truths, of biography, and of fact-- all of this shifts and ebbs and flows, just as our most personal memories do.

Ever-edited Wikipedia replaces paper encyclopedias. The chatter of Twitter eclipses fixed-form and hierarchical communication. The news flow we remember from our childhoods, a single voice of authority on one of three channels, is replaced by something hyper-evolving, chaotic, and less easily defined. Even the formal histories of State may be rewritten by the likes of Wikileaks, and its yet-unlaunched children.

Facts are more fluid than in the days of our grandfathers. In our networked mind, the very act of observation--reporting or tweeting or amplifying some piece of experience--changes the story. The trajectory of information, the velocity of this knowledge on the network, changes the very nature of what is remembered, who remembers it, and for how long it remains part of our shared archive. There are no fixed states.

So must our notion of memory and record evolve.

The history we are creating now is alive. Let us find new ways of recording memory, new ways of telling the story, that reflect life. Let us embrace this infinite complexity as we commit new history to record.

Let us redefine what it means to remember.