Inmemory: social memory, locative narratives
Gianni Corino & Duncan Shingleton
Locative media as a term shares with another term, the ‘Internet of Things’, the very up-to-date attempt to define the technical and cultural shift anticipated in the society as it moves to a ubiquitous form of computing in which every device is ‘on’, and in some way connected to the Internet. Through different location based technologies, we create a data sphere for the Internet that offers up new possibilities to locate or ‘attach’ the digital to objects, space and people.
This is the starting point for rethinking our relationship with the physical world, and we can begin to imagine scenarios where the physical and digital spheres collapse onto each other. One important element in the equation refers to the kind of agency objects and spaces will have in this relationship. As a case study the article will present a project titled Inmemory, developed and presented in Edinburgh at the Inspace gallery in June 2010. Inmemory aims to explore how personal or collective stories coupled to objects and/or spaces could transform our current value system across communities and society. Inmemory main aim is to investigate in practical terms the emerging field of the ‘Internet of Things’ culturally and technologically. The creative, artistic and interactive potential of the ‘Internet of Things’ is the central point of investigation in relation to three main elements: object, memory and agency.
Edinburgh College of Art
Appadurai proposes that the circulation of commodities in social life can be summarised in the follow way. ‘Economic exchange creates value. Value is embodied in commodities that are exchanged. Focusing on things that are exchanged, rather than simply on the forms or functions of exchange, makes it possible to argue that what creates the link between exchange and value is politics.’ (1986, p.3) Since Marx and the early political economists, there has been little mystery about the relationship between politics and the production of commodities. Economic models drive forward consumption, where goods follow the traditional teleology of cradle to grave. This paper poses the question: what economies are created if memory, not politics, becomes the link between exchange and value?
Proust states that ‘consumer goods aren’t really consumed at all – but experienced, either in memory or right now, as key elements of identity itself’ (1927 cited in Kwint, et al., 1999, p.xiii). In western traditions, objects serve memory in three main ways. Firstly they furnish recollection; they constitute our picture of the past. Secondly, objects stimulate remembering, not only through the deployed mnemonics of public monuments or mantelpiece souvenirs, but also by the serendipitous encounter bringing back experience which otherwise would have remained dormant, repressed or forgotten. Thirdly, objects form records: analogues to living memory, storing information beyond individual experience (Kwint, et al., 1999, p.2).
It is clear that memories are intrinsically linked with objects; time and memory are embodied or encoded in our perception of everyday things. Draaisma refers to memories as a ‘store of precious items’ (2000, p.2) and like objects they too have a lifetime, part of a persons own cradle to grave cycle. The advancement of technology from development of writing surfaces, to photography and cinematography, Edison’s phonograph and now a days numerous ‘artificial’ memories assist us in ‘arming ourselves against the transience implicit in the mortality of memory’ (Draaisma, 2000, p.2) by recording what the eye and ear take in.
This paper examines whether the latest advancement of tagging technologies in the manufacturing process, designed to streamline economic supply chains, can unexpectedly become a new platform for memory storage and transform inert objects into vessels that allow for the imprint of experience to be shared over time. Is this the moment where objects move beyond the material value to their owner, or the corporation that built them, and instead become desirable artefacts that challenge our ideas of value in this consumer society?
Appadurai, A., (1986). Introduction: commodities and the politics of value. In A. Appadurai, ed. The social life of things: Commodities in cultural perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ch. 1.
Kwint, M., Breward, C., Aynsley, J., (1999) Material Memories, Design and Evocation. Oxford: Berg
Draaisma, D., (2000) Metaphors of Memory: A History of Ideas About the Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Geser (2002) theorises that the deliberate linkage of the physical world with the virtual world through RFID tags and sensors, will lead to a further “permeability” between the public and private contexts expanding traditional physical spaces, through the creation of “virtual communication” spaces. As we become part of the global network, we are no longer alone and instead we share our daily lives with smart objects, capable of contributing information our environment in the same way we do, and participating in the conversations that were previously off-limits to them. ‘As communications between people, clothes, pens, furniture and applications increase, human beings will have fewer and fewer tedious routine tasks, with computing and processing occurring unnoticed in the background’ (Bohn 2004). Does this mean that RFID is simply to be viewed as another sousveillance technology? As the enabling technologies become more widespread and pervasive, the principle of requesting individual consent every time a person enters into contact with a new data-collecting device becomes outdated and unrealistic. ‘This data collection facilitates personal identification, but at the same time makes it difficult for individuals control the blurring boundary between the public and private spheres, and to determine who can access his/her private sphere and under what conditions’ (Stalder 2002).
Immersed in a ubiquitous environment saturated with RFID tags and readers, do humans and objects simply become blank fields in a database, waiting to be filled in? ‘RFID is a strange space’, since it’s use will lead to three results: ‘there will be no more public space; there will be no more memory loss and there will be no more people, just dataclouds’. Kranenburg, Rob van (Mediamatic conference 2006)
Geser, H (2002) Sociology of the Mobile Phone, Zurich: University of Zurich
Stalder, Felix (2002) “The voiding of Privacy”, Sociological Research Online, Vol 7, No 2 [online] Available http://felix.openflows.com/html/FS_Voiding_of_privacy.pdf [date accessed: 23 September 2009]
Bohn J, Coroama V, Langheinrich M, Mattern F & Rohs M (2004) Social, Economic and Ethical Implications of Ambient Intelligence and Ubiquitous Computing, Institute for Pervasive Computing, ETH: Zurich
Baudrillard (1996) discuses the capacity for objects to invoke memories within us, that they complexity of this relationship between human on object connoting the ‘emotional value’ objects take on; ‘What gives houses of our childhood such depth and resonance in memory is clearly the complex structure of interiority, and the objects within it serve for us as boundary markers of the symbolic configuration known as home. In their anthropomorphism the objects that furnish it become household gods, spatial incarnations of the emotional bonds and the permanence of the family group’. He terms these objects technemes, items which consider not only their technical function but also the ideas, values, and fetishes connected to them, and describes them as being in a ‘perpetual flight from technical structure towards their secondary meanings, from technological system towards a cultural system’.
Baudrillard (1996) romanticised that ‘We may dream of arriving at an exhaustive description of technemes and their semantic relations that would cover the entire world of objects, but this inevitably remain just that – a dream.’ However with the advent near-field communications, and a global database of things, it’s possible for us to create an interface that maps his view of objects and our memories.
Baudrillard, Jean (1996) The System of Objects (translated by Benedict, James), Verso London
Can smarty objects transfer the agency of memory storage away from the person and instead, in an automated process of continual information capture and storage, provide a new memory repository that supports, relieves and occasionally replaces natural memory?
Draaisma (2000) provides us with a metaphor of memory as objects, referring to memories as a‘store of precious items’. Like objects they too have a lifetime, part of a persons own cradle to grave cycle, where death erases memory in but a moment. The advancement of technology has assisted us in ‘arming ourselves against the transience implicit in the mortality of memory by developing artificial memories’ (Daaisma 2000). The development of writing surfaces, from clay or wax tablets, to parchment and vellum, and later on paper, provided the oldest of memory aids, not only accommodating natural language but also drawings of all kinds. Photography allowed for images to be directly recorded and the invention of cinematography meant moving images could also be captured. The preservation of sound became a reality through Edison’s phonograph, and now a days numerous ‘artificial’ memories from MP3, DVD and computer memories are available to record what the eye and ear take in. ‘Image and sound are transportable in space and time, they are repeatable, reproducible, on a scale that seem inconceivable a century ago… our views of the operation of memory are fuelled by the procedures and techniques we have invented for the preservation and reproduction of information (Draaisma 2000).
However the Internet of Things not only has the capacity to serve as an interface for human memory storage, it can store the memory of the object itself. Sterling (2005) terms these objects Spimes, made possible through the convergence of emerging technologies, related to both the manufacturing process for consumer goods, and through identification and location technologies. Technologies that allow us track the entire existence of an object, from before it was made (its virtual representation), through its manufacture, its ownership history, its physical location, until its eventual obsolescence and breaking-down back into raw material to be used for new instantiations of objects. These objects when recorded can be archived and searched for, as databases of specific item/location/relationship information which track the lifetime of an object through space and time are generated.
Draaisma, Douwe (2000) Metaphors of Memory, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Sterling, Bruce (2005) Shaping Things, Cambridge: MIT Press