Memory as Concept and Design in Digital Recording Devices
Faubion, James D.
Doctor of Philosophy
This thesis focuses on scientists and technologies brought together around the desire to improve fallible human memory. Based on extended ethnographic fieldwork, it considers interdisciplinary collaborations among experts who design recording and archiving technologies that seek to maintain, extend, and commemorate life. How are everyday experiences translated as information, and for what purpose? How are our habits of drinking tea, talking on the phone, driving to work, and reminiscing with old photographs, turned into something that can be stored, analyzed and acted upon? How might information be used in real time to supplement the living in a recursive feedback loop? By addressing these questions, I reveal how these memory banks are inherently tied to logics of capital, of stock and storage, and to logics of the technological where, when it comes to memory, more is more. The first sections that make up this dissertation shift in scale from the micro to the macro: from historical national endeavors that turned ordinary citizens into a sensors and collectors of the mundane, to contemporary computational projects designed to store, organize and retrieve vast amounts of information. The second half of this dissertation focuses on two extreme cases of lifelogging that make use of prototypical recording technologies: Gordon Bell, who is on a quest to record his life for the sake of increased objectivity, productivity, and digital posterity, and Mrs. B, a woman who suffers from amnesia and records her life in the hopes of leading a normal life in which she can share the past with loved ones. Through these case studies, I show how new recording technologies are both a symptom of, and a cure for, anxieties about time. By focusing on the design of new objects and by addressing contemporary debates on the intentions that govern the making of recording machines, I examine how technologies take shape, and how they inform understandings of memory and the self as well as notions of human disability and enhancement. In short, I show that the past, as well as the present and the future, are always discursively, practically, and technologically informed.