Wendy Chun - The Enduring Ephemeral, or the Future is a Memory

Feb 21st, 2008

New media, like the computer technology on which it relies, races simultaneously towards the future and the past, towards the bleeding edge of obsolescence. Indeed, rather than "what is new media?", the more important questions seem to be: "what was new media?" and "what will it be?" To some extent this phenomenon is due to the modifier "new": to call something new is to ensure that it will one day be old. This inevitable aging, however, does not explain how or why the digital has become the new, nor why the yesterday and tomorrow of new media are often the same thing: concepts such as social networking (MUDS to Second Life), or hot Youtube videos that are already old and old email messages forever circulated and re-discovered as new.

Key to the digital as the new is an ideological conflation of memory and storage that undermines and underlines digital media's archival promise. Memory, with its constant degeneration, does not equal storage; although artificial memory has historically combined the transitory with the permanent, the passing with the stable, digital media complicates this relationship by making the permanent into an enduring ephemeral. As I explain in this talk, it does so not simply through some inherent technological feature, but rather because everyday usage and parlance seeks to arrest memory and its degenerative possibilities in order to support dreams of digital programmability, of the future unfolding predictably from memory. Unpacking the theoretical implications of constantly disseminated and
regenerated digital content, this paper argues these dreams create, rather than solve, archival nightmares. They proliferate non-simultaneous enduring ephemerals.

Speaker Biography

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun is Associate Professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. She has studied both Systems Design Engineering and English Literature.

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Categories: theory

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