Thursday, 17 December 2009

Memory - TimeScapes

Memory has a lot to do with repetition. It is a lot easier to remember something if it is a repetitive element that fits whit in a chain of elements. The memory then can be constructed from bits of information along the chain, but without knowing all the exact detail of one element. This applies to actions that become routines because they have been repeated a great number of times in a relative short period of time but this also applies to larger or over a longer period of time stretching events. E.g. memorials or remembering days.
Longer time periods are very difficult for the human brain to structure. We quickly loose orientation and mix up events. Sequencing is here very helpful. To have a string type of aid to line up the events can keep the orientation. This is where the concept of the calendar comes in as a narrating tool to structure events in the past but also in the future. It provides the framework to organise on the basis of time.
However, there are other sources that can be used to aid orientation. For example photographs can be used as memory triggers. A photograph is much more than simply a flat image. Multiple layers are attached to it, including spatial, social and also temporal aspects. This is obviously related to events of the past, but the human brain is able to use these experiences to also project possible events in the future. For example a photograph of last years Christmas Party, triggers memories of this years party and raises expectations for next years big Christmas bash. This conception raises the question to what extend memory is linear and it could be argued, that remembering is not linear at all, but mainly a construction, usually along similar characteristics.
Nevertheless the overarching, accurate calendar system has completely penetrated our everyday life. Everything lines up with this framework and to a large extend our pocket diary is the only point of reference regarding temporal aspects of life. Of course nowadays it is most likely no longer a physical, paper version but rather some sort of software piece on one or all the gadgets in your bag. For a long time these softwares have simply imitated the paper version and only recently they start to develop individual characteristics and possibilities. Take for example where events and objects are represented on a horizontal timeline. It will integrate with a lot of different media. not only does it contain text based notes with an assigned time but video, image, links and so on. You can even link a large variety of other sources of activity to it. This can be twitter, facebook, youtube, vimeo, flicker or any RSS source. This is pretty cool and I obviously fell in love with it immediately. Similar service offer friendFeed, daytum or
But it doesn’t stop here. Location is very 2009 and everything has to be tagged with at least a location. dipity is actually quite cleaver and tries automatically to identify the location of events and gets it pretty precise. Regarding location based memory you get a number of additional services such as brightkite but also twitter for example does include latLong now.
There is a large palette of accessible apps for everyone to store memories live and build up a pile of bites referring to your life.

Image by urbanTick - screenshot dipity

The University of Leeds runs a large scale project to collect memories and store them and make the accessible to researchers. The project is run by the School of Sociology and Social Policy under the title TimeScapes. It runs in connection with the BBC where you can find a dedicated page. Leeds runs a series of workshops and conferences on the topic. It seems that the main challenge is not to actually find the memory, rep. the participants to share the memory, but to store it. It requires a multimedia database and this is tricky and becomes even more difficult if it is opened to eternal researchers for data processing.
On the BBC website the memories are strictly presented along an overarching time axis. This seems very rigid and for a start excludes any of the non linear narratives between narratives discussed in the beginning.

Image by UrbanTick - screenshot MemoryShare

However, the obvious problem is how to combine multiple individuals’ memory in a nonlinear fashion. One way is the traditional concept of the calendar as discussed above and as the BBC uses it for the timeScape. Another option could be the locative data, this also provides a shared point of reference. A really interesting project here is the, a web based memory project covering the New York area. Here the numerous memories are linked through the use of the map.

Image by urbanTick - screenshot cityofmemory

>Aldo Rossi “the museum of pain” in “What is to be done with the old cities?“ in Architectural Design no 55, 1989, p 19

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