Thursday, March 13, 2014

Memory and forgetting in the digital age

I just read a very interesting article by Liam Bannon called "Forgetting as a feature, not a bug: the duality of memory and implications for ubiquitous computing". Liam, who is a colleague and friend of mine since many years, engages in a theoretical exploration based on the simple question, what if forgetting is a feature of being human and not a problem?

Traditionally the case is made that digital technology is the perfect technology to support us humans to overcome our defective memory. But if we assume instead that our memory is not defective then what does that mean for the design of digital technology. The way Liam develops this question leads to a number of new questions, all intriguing but also complex in themselves. The article does not lead to a simple answer, instead it opens up for further examinations of the way we think about the relation between humans and technology. For instance, we can, based on Liam's examination, ask questions about other human traits that are commonly seen as in need for support. For instance, we usually consider computers fast and humans slow. What if slowness is a feature and not a bug. This has been discussed by Johan Redström around the notion of "slow technology".

I think the lesson from Liam's article is that if we, as Liam does, flip what is truly a "feature" and a "bug" of being human, we may open up new potential design spaces. I really appreciate the article by Liam, it is a type of articles we see far too seldom in our field. They take on big questions in a methodological and philosophical way that makes sense from both a theoretical and practical perspective!