All memory is physical, information is material
All memory is finite, information is ephemeral
This lecture was a two-fold mash up of the critique of Memex (through Vanneavar Bush and Wendy Chun) and the concept of plasticity (through Catherine Malabou). I’d like to collect the disparate ideas back into aesthetic questions regarding computation. Computer is a giant memory machine. When we use the computer. we are, in essence, making memories of our perception, experience and thoughts. Then, what exactly distinguishes computers from other automata that repeat programmed tasks? The computer is constructed from what's called finite-state machines. A finite-state machine is an "abstract machine that can be in exactly one of a finite number of states at any given time. Computer memory is physical, even at the signal level inside of digital electronics. Contrary to Bush’s vision, computer is an unreliable memory machine. As much as the computer remembers, it tends to forget as well. Indeed, Chun writes memory always disappears, digital or physical.
If computer memory is like anything, it is like erasable writing; but, if a penciled word can be erased because graphite is soft, a computer’s memory can be rewritten because its surface constantly fades.”
Computer memory(Data) is a thing, an object. And it holds the constraints of all objects. All computer memory is just electrical charges held momentarily, in some complex weave of circuits. Also, all computer memory, is stored in some storage, on a physical hard disk or in the cloud, which is also a physical hardware located someplace else. In a sense, digital memory resides inside of physical storage.
“All data, from dutiful Facebook likes to iCloud selfies to every secret NSA database, is stored on a physical device somewhere.” - Mimi Onuha https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-it-takes-to-truly-delete-data/
Computer Memory is often flawed and incomplete, just like the ways it can be either temporary or permanent, or some combination of two. When we produce new content online on a day to day basis, the data tends to disappear at some point. However, even when the computer memory becomes inaccessible, there is a chance to excavate that. These life and death of data is often beyond our own control. To ensure our control over the permanent trace of our activity online, activists claim the Right to be forgotten. It’s essentially claiming that as free individuals, we should have the right to be forgotten, and have the agency to decide how our computer memory will be shared online after our death.
Although there are ways of backing ups and keeping computer memory in storages, there’s always the chance of utterance, a possibility to lose the memory. Thus, corporations offer many solutions to preserve and protect one’s computer memory. Let’s focus on this complexities of computer memory, it’s fragility and resilience through an artistic vision. The poetics of computation is about challenging what is possible within the constraints of computation. Other than thinking of more efficient ways of preserving computer memory, probably more interesting questions await us – What makes some computer memory more meaningful to us? How does computation affect the ways be remember the past, live in the present and project for the future? How can we use computation as a tool to understand how we think and remember? What are the emotional resonance with certain type of computer memory? What is the poetry that can be written through computer memory? What are the ethical responsibilities of creating computer memory? We will return to these questions through the concept of Archive in the next lecture.