The Forgetting Machine


Presentation Title:

  • The Forgetting Machine



  • In this talk I will look at how private autobiographical memory has become externalized and public through the emergence of recording devices and social media. With the introduction of the Victorian practice of photographing the dead, remembering became an externalized activity, made public through the status of the photograph as a memory object. The explosion of social media in the twenty-first century has given these objects wider circulation, allowing them to travel beyond their immediate geographically bound network. This movement from an internal circle to a wider network has produced a phenomenon of pseudomemory in which it is possible to possess memories of people and events that one has never met or witnessed.
    Within this culture forgetting becomes a radical act. Forgetting functions as counter-productive to the infrastructure of memory preservation produced by archives, conservation and restoration experts, databases, and scrapbook artists. However, recent work in social psychology and memory science suggests that forgetting can be productive as a treatment for traumatic memory disorders. This paper looks at the tension between the act of forgetting and a culture saturated with persistent public memory objects.
    I address these concerns in The Forgetting Machine, an iPhone application that digitally destroys memory objects. In The Forgetting Machine I imagine a space in which reconsolidation, a theory proposed by scientist Karim Nader, governs not only our biological memories but also the prosthetic memory objects we circulate using social media. The site for this interaction is the mobile phone, the device we use to capture, store, and share our personal digital memory objects.
    Users download and install the application and take photographs using the phone’s camera. Each time they view their photograph or press the refresh button, the photograph displayed becomes slightly obscured or blurred. Through the user’s act of use or refresh the original becomes inaccessible and is replaced by a new original. Over time this image becomes unrecognizable. By performing this disruption, The Forgetting Machine renders a biological process, the constant reconsolidation of memory, as a technological glitch that interrupts the process of saving and offers in its place an oppositional process of forgetting. The Forgetting Machine proposes an alternate system of cultural values in which forgetting is seen not as error but rather as a productive practice of contraction and erosion.

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