Glitch Memory: Raising Ethical Questions

Ann Light, Annette Markham, & Mórna O’Connor

In MoRM, people come across an interactive museum experience, where researchers act as ‘uncurators’, visitors are memory donors, the collective donations of memories are displayed in some way, and the entire practice is framed conceptually as developing memory archives for future archaeologists. We focus on how the stuff of memory is transformed as it is digitized and what this might mean on micro and macro scales. The goal of such an intervention is to spark curiosity whereby participants, over time and after their experience at MoRM, seek out and gain stronger digital or data literacy.

The screens show the mutated and glitched thoughts of a woman in her seventies, given, in answer, to the museum as part of the earlier installation at DOKK1. The woman wishes to part with a memory of wartime privation in her small Jutland town. She speaks eloquently and at length of her experiences some 65 years ago.

MoRM is predicated on the widespread uncertainty that exists in relation to social media and its ilk. It is created in response to such questions as: How ­do platforms like Google, Facebook, and basic photo management software on our computers or smartphones sort and organize our images? How exactly do companies track and collect information as a user clicks on links or conducts a browser search? How do we deal with the fact that as we snap photos, post updates, send and receive email, conduct regular searches, and use online services, we each produce and accumulate ‘big data’? How do we get our heads round data that is massive in quantity; stored in multiple locations across multiple chips, memory cards, and clouds; distributed through multiple platforms; only partially accessible to human perception, and literally too large to comprehend or manage effectively without some level of computational assistance? These everyday questions about life in the digital age are not easy to answer and require more than basic knowledge about computer programming, infrastructures of software and networks, and automated data analytics.

We experiment with algorithmic marking, whereby any signifier is an outcome of situated entanglements

Transcription by Google, automated decision-making creating discrete units of cultural (mis)information

Here, data points locating the position of the hands in video frames train the algorithmic memory maker. This experiment forces us to ask where memory is located in conversation?

In MoRM, we encounter these questions creatively through remix. Within an overall framework of experimentation and critical pedagogy, we mix perspectives and techniques from situational analysis, ethnographic interviewing, museum curation, speculative fabulation, participatory design and critical making, qualitative social science, performance art, theatre, rhetorical criticism, computational art, big data analytics, and pedagogy. Throughout, we systematically, albeit in an emergent and casual fashion, conduct self-reflexive meta-analyses of encounters.

CMU OpenPose tracking with –hand flag enabled. In live display, data is shown with alternating lines and points based on machine-transcript of meta-conversation between Robert Ochshorn and Annette Markham

Trine’s narrative account, shared in an early spring afternoon conversation last year, is retold here.  On three screens, excerpts from her conversation are remixed in three ways. None of these truly answer the questions we received a year ago, in turn, in our role as uncurators, such as: “What does it mean if I want my memory to be forgotten? What are you going to do with it?” Nonetheless, participants from previous events have responded with more desire to think about the fraught relationships created by the digital. They have left with a greater worry about how their own or their community’s heritage might be lost or reframed in the future depending on how data is stored or lost, or whose data is stored or considered valuable by entities that write history.

If accounts of memory reveal what has mattered and might continue to be salient, then this incarnation of the “Museum of Random Memory” is far from an arbitrary collection of the public’s spare data, but instead a focused study on the issues of representation and ethics that collecting such material raises. We bring it to this conference to highlight this interplay of affective and material concerns.

The Museum of Random Memory (MoRM) is an ongoing series of performative arts-based public interventions designed to spark deep reflection about the underlying complexities of everyday digital media usage.

Acknowledgments:

The team of uncurators: Annette Markham with Dalida Maria Benfield, Christopher Bratton, Robert Brooks, Ramona Dremljuga, JV Fuqua, Anu Harju, Elyzabeth Holford, Kseniia Kalugina, Justin Lacko, Ann Light, Robert Ochshorn, Mórna O’Connor, Kasper Ostrowski, Gabriel Pereira, Mads Rehder, Sarah Schorr, Andrew Sempere. Katrin Tiidenberg and Elizabeth Whitney.

This set of experiments is part of the larger Creating Future Memories research project, centered at the department of Information Studies at Aarhus University Faculty of Arts. It has been funded in part by the Aarhus University Research Foundation. Since 2017, MoRM is a collaborative project with the Center for Arts, Science, and Social Research in Boston.

Creating Future Memories

This page is part of Creating Future Memories, an Aarhus University funded research project exploring speculative, future-oriented, and participatory methods for citizens to understand and better control the data being produced through and around the everyday use of digital media.