Memory and the Limits of Digital Archives

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Evgeny Morozov, writing for Boston Review (and responding to the new book Delete), on whether or not digital storage enhances memory:

Suppose we transfer photos from an iPhone to a hard drive: who is remembering? And is this an act of remembrance at all?

If the transfer succeeds, we may have a faint memory of saving the photos in some generically named folder on our hard drives, but to find those exact files we’ll also need to know how to look for them (e.g., by name, date, approximate contents).

Yes, these days we produce, consume, and save more data–a study by researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that in 2008 the average American consumed 34 gigabytes of information per day, an increase of about 350 percent since 1980–but it does not follow that we remember more.

Perfect digital memory is useless without perfect digital cataloging. . . . A 2008 study conducted by researchers at the University of Sheffield in Britain found that 39 percent of surveyed participants failed to retrieve digital photos of important events that took place only a year before; they couldn’t find them on their hard drives and had no idea how to search for them, as they had not organized and annotated them properly.

Source: Boston Review

Image by Björn Söderqvist, licensed under Creative Commons.

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