Alan N. Shapiro, Visiting Professor in Transdisciplinary Design, Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, Germany

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Time, Memory, Experience (part 1 of 4), by Anja Wiesinger

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Time-Memory-Experience

by Anja Wiesinger

(this is part 1 of a 4-part essay)

In my Master’s Thesis in Art History, done at the Technical University of Berlin in 2011, I attempted to do the following:

My project is to revise the theories and concepts that arose in the advent of the Internet in the early 1990s, when the Internet emerged from a blank canvas and served as a projection for dreams about utopian cyberspace.

Have these theories of New Media and New Technologies stood the test of time with the technological development known as Web 2.0?

The first goal to arrive at is a media theory that can comprehend how the medium forms the message (in a McLuhan-esque sense).

The medium as understood here concerns the form: the information architecture, the logic applied to the software and programming languages, as well as social aspects which affect the content.

My approach is to stress that programming and software are not neutral.

This perspective also means starting not at a level of discussion of the binary structure in computing, but rather at the level of software that is constructed and embedded in social and cultural contexts (as well as technical contexts).

The second goal of my project is to develop a vision and perception of media that is connected to a bodily experience.

When thinking about the relationship between the computer and the body of the user (in the sub-field of software design known as User Experience), I ask myself: how do we perceive the objects on the interface, how do we interact with them through diverse technical devices?

I feel that the fascination for interfaces, computers, ipads and so on that kids have before they can even read indicates that we are dealing here with something that is very vital and somehow alive.

It flickers, it responds to our touches, it animates and so on.

Since the Internet has become a giant archive, the image of the Internet as a huge memory prosthesis had become very popular.

Popular response seems to express the fear that computers will outwit the human race in a few years, when they have become more intelligent and are able to process more data from their gigantic memory.

This is an important science-fiction theme that I take very seriously: the super-computer ruling over the human race — as in Isaac Asimov’s short story “The Evitable Conflict” (1950), Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End (1953), Philip K. Dick’s novel Vulcan’s Hammer (1960), and the film Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970).

But what I also take seriously is that the interaction between user and computer needs to take into account both sides of the memory equation: the memory of the machine and the memory of the user, as they become intertwined and tangled up.

What kinds of experiences enable technologies which enhance the memory of the user or the human subject?

Are we dealing with a short-term attention span or does visual information leave a stronger imprint because it spurs our photographic memory?

I will begin with the aspect of time-memory.

Together with Alan N. Shapiro, I will start to elaborate a “materialist” theory of New Media and New Technologies.

Our goal is to arrive at a description of an aesthetic experience for digital and virtual technologies, one which focuses on an embodied subject-object relationship, and thereby opens the way for a description and discussion of aesthetic practices in New Media – and in New Media Art – today.

And to arrive at a new media theory which has a truly deepened understanding of New Media.

I am concerned with digital archives, and with a changing archiving paradigm, and with how this changes the classical function of the archive.

Our approach towards the archive and towards objects of the past must change.

Digital archives, due to their ability to save huge amounts of data, now alter irrevocably the paradigm that has existed for a long time with classical archives — namely, the assumption that throughout history a process of selection (related to storage limits) always already took place.

The assumption that archives were/are the official authority of the past, of knowledge and of “cultural heritage,” is placed into question today by the reality that everything is now saved and stored.

What’s more, the collaborative mode of working the digital archive takes into account multiple views and resources, not bound anymore to a local space and practice.

We will arrive at a universal archive (at least more universal than before).

Among the aspects to be considered are the following:

- The construction of Artstor as a collection.

- The metaphor of trace as discussed in Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin, Rosalind Krauss, and Aleida Assmann.

- A new archiving paradigm.

- Memory (of the user, of the computer), connected to the body and emotions.

- Emotions in interaction with the computer.

- Libidinal memory and the experience of work in the machine.

- Timeness of computers.

When thinking about the changing function of the archive in the digital era, I think of a metaphor that we often use when talking about history, the concept or metaphor of the trace, which is an important term in the field of media archeology.

 

An author like Aleida Assmann says that the trace is now obsolete, because of the endless data stream (which is immaterial in her view).

In discussing the work of thinkers like Freud, Benjamin, and Krauss, I am going to draw ideas from these authors and theories — but to make a point, not necessarily to be faithful to their original intentions.

I think it is necessary to mention this, since none of these writers wrote about digital technologies.

On the other hand, digital technologies were born in a time when these thinkers were still alive, and I would also like to locate and integrate the discourse about the journey of digital technologies into a general one about modernism.

So, in this context also, it makes sense to read Freud, Benjamin and Krauss, and also many others.

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