Memories of the Future and the Art to Forget

New media offer great opportunities for preserving and distributing our collective memories. Memory institutions – such as museums, archives and libraries- are increasingly using new media to distribute their digital collections. In this way these collections can be viewed by a potentially larger group of participants. However there are still many operational challenges to face. Many memory institutions still have lots of work regarding the registration and description of their collections, the use of sustainable formats, the use of future proof metadata models, the implementation of user friendly distribution models, the search for business models for financing digital preservation and distribution, etc.

Next to these operational questions the digital evolutions are challenging the position of memory institutions. Indeed people are more and more using the internet to find information and build up knowledge. While print media used to be the traditional instruments to save our collective memories, digital media are setting a new standard. People spend hours a week searching on Google, looking at YouTube movies and commenting on each other’s lives on Facebook. Two factors are critical here. First of all the information people look at can come from a vast variety of content producers. It can come from traditional media but also from commercial organisations, talented amateurs, and charlatans. In a digital sphere it becomes even more difficult than in an offline world to assess the existing stakeholders and the power structures behind it. Put differently: why are stakeholders saying what they are saying. Secondly the instruments people use to find information are concentrated in the hands of a few companies. Thus the dominance of traditional players in the field of contemporary and future memory practices becomes contested. Indeed in the process of the googlization of knowledge, the information people consume is more likely to come from global elite media and well-resourced agenda-setters.These evolutions raise many questions. What will the worldwide googlization means for the construction of collective memories? Is it still possible to maintain and educate a kind of cultural canon? Will our digital memories be part of the public domain? Which policy actions are needed to guarantee public access to our digital cultural heritage?

These questions are at the heart of the project Archipel. In this research project actors from the cultural and educational sector, iMinds research groups and technology companies join forces to investigate and demonstrate a pilot for a sustainable digital archive in Flanders. On the one hand Archipel will tackle technological challenges. On the other hand Archipel will also investigate the cultural, strategic and economic challenges related to a networked digital archive. Archipel is an iMinds-project financed by the IWT (Flemish government agency for Innovation by Science and Technology) under the Programme Innovative Media. More info on

Afterword: together with Nietzsche one can question the concept of ‘memory’ and ‘remembering’. Don’t we also need the capability to forget?
“In the case of the smallest or of the greatest is always the same thing that makes happiness happiness: the ability to forget or, expressed in more scholarly fashion, the capacity to feel unhistorically during its duration.”
In other words, what will be the impact of a memory which is always available?

Created by Gert Nulens on 17/09/2010