bird poops on plum branch


Buster Benson

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things I like part 4
nye 2008
  1. This American Life podcast
  2. Mulligatawny soup, my debut in Indian cooking, and Madhur Jaffrey's "An Invitation to Indian Cooking"
  3. Mini-decanters on local wines
  4. The hundred pushup challenge (
  5. Shopping in Pike Place Market on a cold sunny winter day
Luckily, I got to experience all 5 of these things today.  An amazing day overall, the kind that makes me feel truly grounded and alive in the present day. 

I've been thinking a lot about why we record things.  Why keep track of things.  Because, truthfully, most of the things we record, we never go back to review.  A lot of us did go back and review 2008, but what does that really do?  I think it motivates us to re-commit to goals, appreciate our accomplishments, learn from mistakes.  So is that the purpose of recording our lives?

What will biographers of the future do with this gigantic surplus of information about our daily lives?  Will the mystery of stories and the author's narrative license be revoked?  Or will it provide an even more vivid story than our imaginations would have been able to conjure?

I like recording my life.  Make that #6 in the above list.  But I also like taking things to their logical conclusions, and that requires knowing exactly why I like to record my life. 

And, today, I think it's about awareness.  Generation Postmodern-X has trouble experiencing anything firsthand.  Even our own lives are easier to understand when filtered and focused through our own first draft incomplete biographies.  It is because it is recorded that we can become aware.  Then, our lives gain the same level of credibility and authenticness that the movies, and the TV shows, do.

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"Generation Postmodern-X has trouble experiencing anything firsthand."

how do you mean, experiencing firsthand?

this question of recording things & its future use to historians, biographers & so forth came up a bit in our archives class. namely in the sense that not just the recording, but the keeping of the record for posterity - this gigantic surplus of information causes several points of anxiety for people in the field - a) it's overwhelming b) much of it is digital & in a format that's not really stabilized for the longhaul & c) how do you determine cultural relevance? the authenticity issue comes up a bit, too, but in a different context.

I just think that we're not so good at experiencing an event outside of the context of a photograph or a blog post or a twitter. At least, those of us who have begun to use those external brain devices fairly regularly and automatically.

"C" seems like a moot point, as cultural relevance has always been difficult to determine. "B", same, since having something on a server is probably more stabilized for the long term than something in a journal or a letter to a friend. "A", however, is probably the crux of the problem. Becoming an "expert" in a significant person or life is now a million times harder, because there is now so much more to become an expert in.

what do you mean by experiencing? that the experience can't be understood or reflected upon without the use of these external brain devices? that the experience itself (say, going to a party) no longer exist without these devices augmenting the experience?

in the context of my points, i'm mostly referring to archivists' responses. take journals for instance. deciding cultural relevance is always difficult, but when you're dealing with a few thousand journals from the 1700s vs. millions upon millions from the early 21st century (assuming they were all to survive), that amplifies the difficulty.

"B" - server vs. a journal/letter. i'm not qualified to judge that one yet. what's the average lifespan of a decent server? i think the concern here is - a letter that survives 200 years just needs someone who is able to read/translate the text (alongside the preservation issues). a server that survives 200 years from now - will all the components we use today to make it functional to relay the information to us still be around? i think what people are assuming is that servers won't exist as they do now, so the problem will be one of migration of information to evolving storage formats.

interesting stuff all around. interesting questions to throw about.

There's a shit ton of work being done in this area - people like the Long Now foundation tackling this very thing. I've also been advocating OS-Level version migration and archiving for quite some time. Apple's Time Machine is a great start on that front.

Also, as we move to the cloud, the concept of a single "server" is becoming moot. The internet as a whole will have to die for us to lose anything.

The volume of content, of course, is a bigger problem, but I think new solutions will present themselves. Things like Google, of course, and their extranet-based search appliances, but also the social web filtering and data mining technologies that are being developed at the behest of marketers who want to know what's going on on the web.

I have a close friend who just got her PHD in digital archiving and we talk about this stuff all the time, and academia's nowhere near where it will ultimately need to be. But the tools are being developed nonetheless, by tech companies and search engines.

Edited at 2009-01-05 02:08 am (UTC)

I don't record things

Or, to be more precise, I don't record the things I think are most significant, which I believe are the things that I am most aware of while they're happening. Weird sort of selection bias, which probably supports your point about the experiencing firsthand.

Or in other words there are three categories of events -- those that I know are meaningful, those that I know are meaningless, and those that I'm not sure about. And I only record the last category. So I must appear to be desperately searching for meaning in life, which is only true some of the time...

Re: I don't record things

Why don't you record things which you think are significant?

Re: I don't record things

One reason is because I don't think I need to, I think I'll remember what I need to remember.

Another reason is that I'm usually too busy doing whatever it is to record it at the time (which I usually do with photos, which requires two hands free and taking care of a fragile piece of equipment).

Maybe another reason is that it is hard for me to describe things in general so I don't try to describe things I have a clear idea of. Kind of like when someone who can't draw doodles they just scribble random patterns instead of drawing something that they see.

I also tend not to record things. I am particularly horrified by tourists taking video of their vacations. They've become a documenter, and are no longer a participant. I feel the same way about photographs to a certain extent -- while they are good and I do take them, inserting a piece of electronic equipment between yourself and what you are ostensibly experiencing cuts you out of the scene a bit, I think.

In a literary theory class I remember discussing theories of language and experience, and the great modern experiment of a man who meticulously wrote down the details of every day of his life for many years, in the later 18th century. He imagined himself leaving behind a most important document exposing "real" life. After he died those who read it concluded it was rubbish. Everyone needs a filter, an interpretation. This is why novels, although they aren't the most popular art form, will never wholly lose their audience, why novels, although fiction, can in a way capture "real" life more than most journals ever could.

Is it the device or the awareness of the recording that cuts you out of the scene? Is it being a documenter or an actor? Or filter?

i know what you mean. last night at the bus stop with no t-mobile i was all panicked. i was in a room present with awesome people who i love, but the fact that i couldn't twitter about the tiniest little thoughts or read anyone else's made me feel cut off.

I don't keep a regular record of my life, but I feel like writing things down is a way of reflecting on them and shuffling them into a useful order for myself. I don't do this as often now, but when things were confusing for me as a kid or I'd had a really crappy day, I'd sit there with my journal and write out the bad things that had happened as a way to make sense of them. Sometimes I didn't even really finish off the account, but the act of starting to write it all down would help. Often when I go back and re-read things, I find that I don't really remember the things I was writing about. I mean, I didn't remember that my ex-boyfriend crushed my 25th birthday party by refusing to go, but I have a whole couple of pages detailing it. Maybe if I hadn't written it down, I would have let it churn in the back of my mind and I would have left his loser ass sooner, but if I hadn't written it down, I also wouldn't have found it later on when I was still moping about breaking up our relationship and felt better about my decision to dump his loser ass.

Well, I don't think that we review things the way we expect. If I look at old VHS tapes, I don't look at the TV show I was trying to record when I was 10, I look at the commercials. There's an old picture of my father that's my favorite because it unintentionally caught my grandfather taking the picture in a mirror. Archaeological museums are full of things that people didn't think would last for as long as it did. Heck, in archaeology they wallow through old middens for clues about people's lives!

Recording your life is great, but partly because it provides you (and other people) with more opportunities for these accidental encounters with the past.

Being an obsessive archivist for 20 years, I archive for three reasons:

1) because I will forget things. I didn't use to, but it's starting now. I find myself referring back to the archives frequently now. You say we never look back on them, but that's because we're still young. We'll refer to them more as we get older.

2) for my family. Some of my most cherished posessions are my grandfather's manuscripts and journals. He had a little leather book that he wrote 1-2 lines about every day for 40 years. It's heartbreaking in its simplicity and beauty. I also have all his old notes and manuscripts from his saturday evening post stories. I feel closer to him for having it, and I wish my other ancestors did more of this. So I do it for my descendents.

3) I archive content at the edges. Things that are rare - that current trends don't care about. Albums that aren't on napster or bit torrent. Books that people have forgotten about but have merit and import that people will want later. I think in that linked article above I refer to a specific 12" single I posted, and I get 1-2 inquiries a month about it. People will want this stuff, just not in large numbers. This is akin to rare book collections, small press libraries, and whatnot.

The concept of a biographer, of course, is flattering, and I use it as shorthand for this whole affair, but I don't really worry about that too much. I do think that biographers will have to learn to wrestle with a larger volume of source material (see above), but I think ultimately, their job will be the same. Even with people like you and me who document a lot, it'll still be hard to tease out the important narratives of our lives that we don't talk as much about - tensions in our love lives, motivations that cause us to choose where to live or who to be with - past experiences that shape our quirks and personalities, and the dark secrets that we don't talk about that form who we are.

It'll still be hard to tease out the important narratives of our lives that we don't talk as much about - tensions in our love lives, motivations that cause us to choose where to live or who to be with - past experiences that shape our quirks and personalities, and the dark secrets that we don't talk about that form who we are.

That's pretty true. Maybe we're recording all the wrong things!

Assuming we become famous, people want to know the "real you." We don't want the world to know the real us. Or, even if we do - and, actually, I think both of us more or less do - our relations with other people make it nearly impossible. We love people. We protect people. But those people also make up who we are.

Anais Nin did it fairly well. She chronicled everything for herself, but what she shared, when alive, was an abridged subset of it. But she saved and kept everything. Unabridged versions only came out as people had died off. They stopped when the historic chronicle caught up to the people who were still alive - as in when the historic unabridged record reached the point she met her current, living husband.

I think we probably need to distinguish between sharing and archiving. I try and ARCHIVE everything. Every memory. Every bad lay. Every embarrassment. Every humiliation and shame. I don't SHARE it all, by any stretch of the imagination.

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