By: ￼Michael Beach
View the full site: http://gaiasis.com/digitalbergson/
DIGIMEM is an interactive website that represents Henri Bergson’s Cone of Memory in a digital format that bridges his ideas of time and memory with an idea of digital systems as a vital force that relates to humans in a symbiotic fashion. My intention is to offer an experience that represents the interaction between the self and the accessing of memory via a digital platform. This piece is to explore the roles of technology within other living systems, how through Bergson’s ideas, technology has a temporal “life” of its own. I will touch on a few other ideas from thinkers Katherine Hayles and Bernard Stiegler to contextualize my thinking with the piece and the reasoning behind my design choices.
Notions of preformation and other kinds of teleology have lingered on through a form of intellectual inheritance. By substituting names and figures and ideas, assumptions are left in tact leading to ideas like – time is specialized the same way space is. For Bergson, time is not a question of specialization but rather a question of duration. (Bergson 2002) In his essay “Creative Evolution,” Bergson explains this idea:
For our duration is not merely one instant replacing another; if it were, there would never be anything but the present – no prolonging of the past into the actual, no evolution, no concrete duration. Duration is the continuous progress of the past which gnaws into the future and which swells as it advances. And as the past grows without ceasing, so also there is no limit to its preservation. (Bergson 2002)
Bergson continues, saying that no two things can occupy the same space but they can occupy the same time. And with the question of “where is the past preserved?” memories are not stored in a physical location in our brains but rather exist separate from us and are accessed through an existential phenomenology or science of experience (Bergson 2002). The past is always with you and your present is defined by your past. Trying to use the immediate data of consciousness we have to assume that the present and the past exist together. If the past exists with the present it has to be the entire past as there is not inherent line to be drawn between one moment and another (Bergson 2002). This provides a thick notion of temporality.
I chose to represent Bergson’s time cone and a digital platform because technology is becoming more and more complex in ways Bergson and other thinkers of the 18th and 19th century could only speculate. This representation is an attempt to bring some of these concepts and relationships to light to a wider audience through playful interaction.
DIGIMEM is a representation of Bergson’s memory cone. It has shapes, comprised of collaged images from my childhood and further past histories, which float around representing memories and combined sets of memories. They are in constant motion because according to Bergson – everything is in motion, everything has duration (Bergson 2002). Using the pointer on the computer to follow these floating memories around we are able to view or “remember” a memory but never isolate it or bring it to a stagnant place outside of its context of motion. For Bergson, the past is inside the present and constantly changing with us (Bergson 2002). The images themselves are constantly morphing and stretching signifying the constant state of change and difference differing.
There are two versions of DIGIMEM. The first one I call GLITCH, which is a 2-dimensional version that is to indicate that technology also experiences duration and change and this idea of degradation. There is a toggle at the top of this version, which when enabled, activates a version of hardware as memory that has experienced more duration. You can see the amount of distortion and interference is increased. It is playing with this idea that every time a memory is accessed we reconstruct the images and connections with our current context, and by making a copy of a copy of a copy we flow through this fragmented postmodern process where nothing is ever the same and everything is difference. The digital information becomes corrupt and degrades shining a light on the popular misconception that digital archiving is forever. It shows quite the contrary position that digital information, like other life, is limited to material forms and has to play within the same rules by which all life conform.
I turn to Katherine Hayles and her ways of thinking about the embodiment of technology (Hayles, 1999). In her piece, How We Became Posthuman, she reminds us to think about the form (Hayles, 1999). There is no such thing as pure disembodied information because it always requires a material foundation for example: the server where digital files are stored (Hayles, 1999).
The Internet is a complex organism in itself. It is made up of different parts of hardware and software that all work together to create a network of information. From the ground up, a power source is pulled to a warehouse that holds servers that process information which is sent to satellites via waves signals that bounce information around the globe to other satellites and down through towers to your modem and router finally making it to your computer screen and your senses. The files of DIGIMEM are stored on multiple servers around the globe all of which are vulnerable to interference and subjected to the same restraints imposed by physics.
The second version of DIGIMEM I call 3D, which is a 3-dimensional version putting an emphasis on the relationship of mediums between technology and humans and virtual realities that, with the right inputs and outputs, seamless connections to senses can be made. The symbiotic relationship between technology or “technics” and humans has a fascinating history. It’s a relationship that the French philosopher Bernard Stigler would say is inseparable and the line between the two is indistinguishable, that the condition of human being is constituted through and with our prosthetics (Stiegler, 1998). Stiegler suggests we move forward knowing it is impossible to separate humans and technics from each other (Stiegler, 1998). Does this synthesis in itself give additional evidence that technics is life?
Bergson, Henri, and Keith Pearson. Henri Bergson Key Writings. New York: Continuum, 2002. Print.
Hayles, N. Katherine. 1999. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Stiegler, Bernard. 1998. Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus. trans. Richard Beardsworth & George Collins (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).