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Monday, July 16, 2012

Unforgettable: Maria Bustillos' article Not Fade Away

Thanks to the fantastic walllace-l listserv I was recently made aware of Maria Bustillos' excellent article Not fade away: on living, dying, and the digital afterlife. 
There's a bunch of good stuff in this article but the aspect of memory and online activity is really interesting to me. "When someone dies nowadays, we are liable to return to find that person's digital self — his blog, say, or his Flickr, tumblr or Facebook‐entirely unchanged. I knew a young man who passed away suddenly last October. His Facebook page/wall became a digital memorial and people have continued to post photos and remembrances to it as recently as today. Until Facebook takes it down or it is removed for other reasons, it is likely to stay available, almost infinitely. The same technology that can get people fired for posting "inappropriate", however defined, images/video/text, in its unforgetting also, as Bustillos points out, does not forget the dead. There is no relief to be found in the forgetfulness of human memory in regards to a individual's online presences unless steps are deliberately taken to remove that presence. (Even the way we talk about being online, as being a "presence", suggests a false physicality or even a projection of "a second self". See Sherry Turkle.) Corey Doctorow has made the point of creating a means of access for all of his online accounts as part of his will so that his data and his body will be accessible by his loved ones upon death. Online content is a loop that is started the first time one logs in and posts something, anything. That rendering of code  as text, video,blog post will then remain for as long as the server/ISP/browser/Wayback Machine recognizes it. The loop continues on. If you'd like to add to it, great, but the original content doesn't get tarnished in the sunlight or faded with age. "Entropy is our enemy, but also our friend; it defines that part of us that is changing, coming into bloom and then, because we are mortal, fading." Entropy can not be seen in its inevitable progress online. There is no sense of time in the digital world. Once recorded, once captured we continue on. This is dangerous because it seems that we have no need for memory or that all memories can be committed to this much greater brain which does not suffer from Alzheimer's. Not to say that there are not advantages to this but the ability to forget and remember is a significant part of our humanity. It must not be forgotten however that to remember should be a conscious act, not merely a keyword search.

1 comment:

cameron mckenzie said...

enjoying your thoughts there Jeremy, particularly on the new yorker TED article.

when the written word became the norm , i don't know how many hundreds of years ago, there was a great fear that humans would lose there capacity to remember. of course the only way to pass information prior to that was by speech and story. with change there is always fear, but that won't change the change. And in a hundred years we will wonder how we ever got by without it..