There’s more than just a hint of irony in the fact that at the time when we have less quality time being present with ourselves and with others, we have more recording and archiving media available to us than ever before. The penetration of recording into daily life continues, driven perhaps by our insatiable need to rescue the ever-receding present from disappearing entirely. (Just as we continue to spend ever greater amounts of time and money on simulations of a reality that recedes similarly from the terrain of our experience.) There are two kinds of recordings. First-order recordings, which are in effect archives of a lived experience or event; and second-order recordings, which are essentially copies of existing recordings. Both kinds of recording refer back to an original event, performance, moment, or experience. In other words, all recordings are temporal productions. Anything else would be a copy, or an archive. The term recording implies temporality.
We record because memory is temporally structured and experienced. We both create or capture memories and relive them in lived time. Which means that we experience memory in present time. Recordings are hoped to permit us access to the present that in its fleeting unfolding has become past and is thus irretrievable. Do we record only to create and possess a permanent monument to the events of a present? Does recording function as a stand-in for narrative memory; a representation hoped to be as real and accurate as possible a reproduction of the way something was? A document, in other words? Most of the objects we create and consume are stateless and always present—that is, they carry no affiliation to a particular time or to any individual’s particular time; they are simply here and now. However, we seem to have a special affection for products that re-instantiate past times or recorded events. The entertainment and media worlds sell experiences: others’ for the most part but also our own. When we purchase a recording we’re not interested in having the experience of another person, however. We’re interested in being put into a rhythm unwound through the recording: whether it’s a film or an album.
Recordings are synchronous experiences. They are pre-recorded, but not experienced outside of time. To listen to or watch something that’s been recorded is to get in synch with the recording. It is a modification on present time: a re-presentation. We have special demands of these experiences. We might want to be lifted out of our immediate surroundings and present circumstances, as with a film. Or we might want to enhance, color, or augment our present circumstances (music for moods and ambiance). Here the impulse is not to document a fleeting present, but to double it up with an extra. There are tales of the nonplussed reactions among tribal peoples of their first audio recordings. Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo fails in his endeavor to bring real live opera to the Amazon; he succeeds however in its simulation. An exquisite meeting of cultures in the scene of a record player hoisted on the mechanics of European (steam) power, blaring Caruso’s 1902 recording of Italian opera: the first successful commercial vocal recording. Tribal people, we are told, did not recognize the voices within the recording as archived and real moments. Tribal people live their parallel realities through the imaginary. We, on the other hand, can live multiple realities at the same time.
What is present in a recording? What kind of present is it that comes out through a recording? Recordings are so good now, and have been since the camera, that we dare not question its accuracy. Photographic hoaxes and digital treatments notwithstanding, we believe what we see. And what we hear. To an extent we now employ surveillance as a means of documenting the mundane just in case something extra-ordinary occur. We live in a vast exteriorized or reverse panopticon. Hidden cameras and microphones capturing our every move, but from nodes in networks rather than from an architectural center. Recordings are good enough to stand in for the real. It is not through semiotic equivalency that simulation takes over the real. It is through temporal equivalency: our ability to live a representation in synchronous or real time and to attribute to the recording an authenticity that the primitve mind heard only as a disembodied mumbling. Presence, the present, are transformed.
Memory, then, is changed. For as long as it’s possible to believe and to trust a recording, it must certainly be possible to experience a second order reality. Things are real, experiences are valid, with which we have no direct experience. A kind of hyperreality, to borrow from Baudrillard. But not one that is founded on simulation and semiotic modelling (likenesses and appearances). Rather, a hyperrality grounded in pragmatics: not only indirect discourse, but indirect experience, is valid, is true. Our faith in the validity of these second-order experiences or recordings is in part what mobilizes their proliferation. We live in an economy that thrives on the serial reproduction of events and artifacts nobody can recall having experienced. We speak words first uttered by lord only knows who. We see things our eyes weren’t looking for in the first place….
Foucault once said that it’s thanks if it weren’t for forgetting the act of remembering would lose its significance. What’s it called when you’ve forgotten something you didn’t experience in the first place? The inverse of Coupland’s comment on nostalgia felt by kids who weren’t there for the experience in the first place? Can anybody tell anymore between the real and the reproduced? Perhaps if we last long enough we wont have to bother saving our bodies for the future; we’ll go the grave with an archive on disk.
It’s getting dark in here; could somebody turn the lights up please?
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I am currently UX lead and manager at DeloitteDigital, San Francisco.
I make your social media work better for people. Social Interaction Design (SxD) is user-centric approach to social media design, implementation, and strategy that accounts for how different kinds of users engage with social media, and how sites and application design and execution lead to emergent social practices. It applies to user experience design (UX), interaction design (IxD), user interface design (UI), and information architecture (IA). It draws on insights from psychology, sociology, anthropology, communication theory, and media theory. I am available for consulting to design agencies, social media agencies, startups, and social media campaign managers.
Founder, SxdSalon>, a group blog