(Mandolessi, 2023) makes a compelling argument that modern computing (the Internet, the Web, mobile, all of it) hasn’t caused a historical break or rupture in our understanding of how memory works. Rather, digital technologies have extended our understanding of the processes and practices of individual and collective memory. The new digital technologies, their deployments, and the their integration in social and cultural practices have presented opportunities to revisit some theories and concepts from memory studies, and understand them better. But the tech aren’t entirely new phenomena that require completely rethinking memory prior to the web.
In the following, I will address what I propose are four major transformations that collective memory has undergone in the digital era: (1) the new ontology of the digital archive; (2) the shift from narrative as a privileged form of collective memory to the cultural form of the database; (3) the reconfiguration of agency, in which a distributed memory is performed by human and nonhuman agents in a dynamic entanglement; and (4) the shift from mnemonic objects to mnemonic assemblages, comprising persons, things, artefacts, spaces, discourses, behaviours and expressions in dynamic relatedness. In each case, I will show how these changes put into practice – and even enhance – the traits that define collective memory.
I think this perspective is actually really important for doing work in the field. So much in information technology is designed to be shiny and new, and to have no forebears. Mandolessi manages to synthesize and integrate a large amount of previous work in media studies to make her argument.
One of the new things I learned about in the process is Elena Esposito’s argument that Artifical Intelligence (AI) (and machine learning) are better understood as artificial communication (Esposito, 2022). I definitely want to follow up on this, since it seems to be a clarifying concept (and it’s Open Access).
If you can’t make it through the Sage paywall and want a copy of the PDF drop me an email.