Prompt: Forget, or Towards a cheerful digital amnesia by Andreas Broeckmann

Preliminary report about a research project aimed at the development of a new UNIX command, <forget>, that will force the computer into progressive forgetfulness

Computing languages like UNIX form part of the basic infrastructure of storing, retrieving and managing data in global networks as well as on your local hard disks. These languages follow strict, standardised rules of syntax and vocabulary, with commands like <find>, <delete>, or <kill> describing clearly defined, singular operations.

This research proposal suggests the development of a new type of command, called <forget>, which does not effect the same process as <delete>, i.e. the instant erasure of the selected set of data, but which tiggers a process in the computer memory that resembles the process of forgetting as exhibited by the human brain: the slow dispersion of data clusters, the fragmentation of files, certain data packages sinking onto lower levels of the computer architecture, the loss of addresses to certain files, but also the possibility of associative recombination of fragmented files that would suddenly jump up on the computer screen in a new and unexpected configuration - just as the human brain often forms associative links between memories which no longer exist in their original, complete form, and which are brought together in surprising syntheses.

The <forget> command has the effect of a dynamic, arbitrary and partly contingent reorganisation of data within a specific computer environment. On a superficial level, the research project deals with the question of what happens when an irrational element is introduced into a highly rational system. Secondly, it forms part of a broader attempt to develop a notion of a 'machinic aesthetics' that would describe the aesthetic impact of non-authorial creations in media art contexts. At the same time, however, the project undoubtedly has a hidden agenda in that it tries to: a.) point to the already existing, unacknowledged irrationality that rules the digital world, and b.) support the Global Initiative for the Liberation from History.

The project team is currently conducting interviews with computer specialists and programmers in order to build a broad, practical understanding of the technical problems, theoretical questions and commercial opportunities involved in the <forget> command. The public presentation of the first research results during 6Cyberconf will also be aimed at stirring further discussion and gaining input from the conference participants.

Passing reference will be made to historians and philosophers (name dropping is certain to bring up some the usual suspects, Nietzsche ['on the uses and disadvantages of history'], Foucault ['the liberation from super-historical history through parody, dissolution, sacrifice'], Duras ['retained in forgetting itself'], and others), as well as to the role of forgetting in cyberculture. A slide of the Sarajevo Library (destroyed) will be projected and one of Ingo Guenther's projects will be mentioned. The marketability of forgetting will be tested, and a series of interviews with conference participants will make the trip to Oslo worthwhile.



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