PILL: Memories of Us - A Short Story

Memories of Us

I want to write a short story that explores the role of a memory gardener/librarian as a steward of the protocols and social norms that constrain and enable the inscription, orientation and experience of memory. The story will focus on memories attached/bound to physical reality, for example locations or physical objects. It will also look at the processes of memory creation and remembrance, with a focus on shared, participatory memories rather than those only held by individuals. I anticipate the framing will focus on an artist collective, who initially developed this idea as an art project but began begin to recognise it as a mechanism to seed culture by reaching inter-subjective understandings about shared pasts. I am not sure how much I want to involve digital interactions and cryptography in this story. If I do include them, then it will be minimal.

Angles I could explore are:

  • Co-option of these protocols by authorities attempting to seed a culture that recognises and defers to their authority.
  • The lifecycle of memories over time: creation, mutation to either obsalence or ossification.
  • Competing and conflicting memory threads for the same event / period of time
  • The gradual emergence of a body of practice and design ethic around tending to shared memory

This is very much an initial set of ideas, I welcome any suggestions around the theme of memory and the potential tensions I could introduce in the story.

I have written a short story around the themes of memory in the past, called Experiences in Memory Space as part of a research sprint focused on Digital Identity in Times of Crisis run by the Berkman Klein Center. As part of this project, I took part in an author interview, where I outlined a lot of my thinking on memory and its relation to identity at the time. I have really enjoyed how the outputs from the previous cohort, especially those focusing on memory, have expanded my thinking in this domain.

In this story I want to focus on the protocols for creating, orienting and experiencing shared memories and the people, roles and norms that bring these protocols to life. I aim to integrate and build on many of the insights developed as part of the previous cohorts outputs.

My hope is that this story helps catalyse the development of protocols that mediate relationships between people and memory archives, as well as protocols that govern the mediums in which these relationships take place.

cc @keikreutler & @SpencerChang

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Hey this sounds really exciting. I see no need to include cryptographic entities… and while digitally-native memories would certainly be interesting to explore, I’m sure something captivating would be possible without them. That could be an entire other story, the miasmic nature of memories from time spent in the screen.

Could you give us a couple examples of what you think of as “protocols for managing memory”? Is it at the personal scale, or the presumed organization of the memory library?

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Hi @wip, what led to your focus on the visual (i.e. locations or physical objects) rather than the auditory (I.e. music)? There may be space to consider the wide variety of factors that influence/impact memory, unless you have a specific direction you are heading in by focusing on the physical. I also wonder if there are instances where memories are not attached/bound to physical reality. By their very nature, it seems memories must be.

I very much enjoy the angle concerning collective memories. Questions that come to mind:

  • Power dynamics - What memories are included in the collective consciousness?
  • Maintenance/sustainability - How is collective memory protected?
  • Participation - When and how is collective memory gathered?

Your point about co-option brought the first bullet points to mind. You propose an underlying assumption which perhaps authorities understand - protocols are initially created by and for the people. Am I understanding you correctly here? If that is the case, authorities wanting to position themselves as authoritative within the collective consciousness of whoever they are trying to exercise authority over is an unfortunate but real concern. Maybe this sets the stage for a protocol power struggle of sorts.

I’m admittedly not seeing the fit with digital interactions and cryptography. If you have time to further expand on and draw these connections I’d appreciate it.

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I am hoping the summer of protocols can be a fruitful playground to explore in more depth what protocols for managing memories actually are, but here is an initial set of examples.

Although first I will say, on reflection the term “managing memory” doesn’t feel right. It feels too bureaucratic and formal. I think I likeprotocols for tending to memories. Or perhaps something like curating, nurturing, growing.

I have three broad categories of protocols in mind, although there may well be more. Suggestions welome.

Protocols for Inscription

These determine how memories are produced, recorded or stored within some substrate.

Examples:

  • Any act of creation?
  • Writing a diary
  • Graphiti
  • Taking a picture
  • Tracking the height of your child your wall
  • Putting up a statue or plaque

Protocols for Orientation

How memories are discovered and retrieved.

Examples:

  • Opening a diary at a specific place
  • Any identifier: location, place, names, time
  • Asking a librarian to help find a specific newspaper
  • A guided tour through a museum
  • Putting pitctures in an album
  • Opening a time capsule

Protocols to Experience Memory

These protocols bring memories to life in the present, involving interpretation, imagination, reproduction and simulation. All about how memories are understood.

Examples:

  • Public celebrations of famous dates / Ceremony
  • Performance
  • Reenactments of battles
  • Looking over a picture album with your family each christmas
  • The retelling of stories around a fire

Thanks to @keikreutler’s work, Articial Memory and Orienting Infinity for giving me better language to talk about these concepts.

On Collective Memory

Both @ltwp and @Lenz mentioned collective memory. And my focus and interest is definitely in that direction compared to personal memories individually remembered.

However a distinction I would make is that “collective memory” is too broad, I would hope there is no single “memory library” we could point to as our collective memory. Rather collective memory emerges from a messy, distributed, nested layering of individual and group memories.

I am interested in how groups intentionally produce, maintain and bring to life memories. I lean towards exploring the informal, playful, community driven bottom up practices rather than formal and imposed approaches.

I think with this I would refreame the great questions asked by @Lenz on power dynamics, maintenance and participation to be questions a group intentionally maintaining memory should ask itself.

Interesting point. I totally agree, there are many factors that trigger and influence memory. I think my interest in location or physical objects is there sense of permanance and constancy through time, which make them ideal entrypoints to memory. I believe that from these entrypoints one introduce, layer on additional factors of memory such as auditory.

There is a sense that auditory is ephemeral, produced at a moment in time. You have to play it and listen to it to make it real. Bring it to life.

The other thing I would throw in here is archeology. It is ancient ruins and discovered artifacts of past civilizations that have given us a window into their pasts. Maybe through these entrypoints we could decipher there language or reproduce there music, but if it was not captured in a medium with some degree of permanance it is lost.

Finally, I think yes memories are always attached to physical reality in some sense. But often that is just through the associations held in our minds that let us recollect past events. I am wondering how we as groups more intentionally imbue place and object with memories.

Hopefully not too rambling :slight_smile: Thanks for your question

On Digital Interaction and Cryptography

Responding to @Lenz

I think digital technologies and especially those that leverage cryptography have some interesting properties in relation to memories. Thinking:

  • Integrity assurance
  • Authenticity
  • Encryption

These could enable careful structuring and enforcement of the rules around access, contribution and attribution within memory. I notice that these are more in the categories of creation and orientation, rather than the experience of memory. Although digital technologies are still present here, think rendering/visualisations/timelapses etc.

However, I think it might be interesting explore how some of these digital properties might be embodied in a world without digital tech. E.g. use of deaddrops, personal seals, locked boxes and codes.