[Update: It should be noted that the reference to Twitter is incorrect, and each “tweet” is stored in a database. Using this stored data, though, is not the primary practice of users on Twitter, though; the ephemerality still holds true.]
On Friday, I presented my paper, entitled “Virtual Memory: The Blog as Technological Prosthetic,” at the NSSR Interdisciplinary Memory Studies conference. It went very well overall, but the most difficult part of presenting a paper is the Q&A that follows. I think I did OK, but, now that 48 or so hours have passed, I think I have much better answers to the questions I received.
First, I was asked about the materiality/immateriality of the blog; that is, it’s in cyberspace, and “not-there,” yet there is a physical component to it all (servers, network connectivity), and it is really “memory” when we’re so often disconnected to the net?
It’s a great point. I think that bloggers, given they are constantly blogging, are perhaps more connected than others throughout the day. But there is also an asynchronicity to blog conversations — bloggers can carry on, indifferent to time in this sense. One person speaks, and the replies may come back in a few minutes, or in a few days. Within the subjectivity of the blogger, within these asynchronous conversations, memory is available when needed.
There are also other forms of social media — Twitter comes to mind — that perhaps approach real-time and connectedness more than the blog. Because Twitter, for example, works across platforms, including cell phones, the “tweets” that take place are much more accessible, and take place more in “real life.” Unlike the blog, though, Twitter provides little to no memory, as the tweets aren’t stored in a database, and, in this respect, look more like the ephemerality of primary oral cultures.
The next question was whether I wasn’t really talking about an “archive,” rather than “memory.” I think here, we need to question further the nature of an “archive.” First, to me, an archive is something distant — the stacks in the local library. As the time and distance decreases between “I need to remember something” and “here’s the answer” — that is, as we’re able to google our answers as we need them, I think the notion of “archive” begins to wane. Google Books, for example, is an effort to essentially digitize every book — this, I think, changes the meaning of archive. Increasingly, as we search google for, say, Deleuze, we turn up the actual words of Deleuze (his books), rather than the words of other people talking about Deleuze.
At some point, as things can be instantaneously recalled, as we become continually closer to our technology, doesn’t the divide between memory and archive simply cease to exist?
I also think an archive is something fixed. Again, the stacks of books. And yet, the kinds of memory we’re building in a digital age — wikipedia, for example, is hardly fixed. Digital archives/encyclopedias/memories can be updated, and changed. Fixity is lost.
Finally, with respect to the blogger, the memories stored in the database are actually often retrieved and actively “used.” This is because the hypertextual nature of blogging requires an active use of memory — bloggers are extremely self-referential. So, for example, if I want to comment on something I said last week on the blog, my comment will include a link back to that previous post. The form and style of blog culture is heavily reliant on memory, heavily reliant on the ability to find prior blog posts and prior blog comments. In the subjectivity of the blogger, the constant use of the database is something more “active,” something much “closer at hand,” than the term “archive” implies.
But, um, yeah…should have thought of all this when the questions were asked. Not 48 hours later…