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Enterprise Social Networks, Forgetting and Building New Archives

21 September 2012

I’m spending an increasing amount of time at the moment thinking about enterprise social networks (ESN) and the internal workings of organisations. There is no doubt that ESNs are challenging and changing the way we work, how we make decisions, the speed with which knowledge is distributed, found, created, the distinctions between private and public, the impact they are having on organisational hierarchies. ESNs challenge models and ways of doing things that have evolved over the last few decades. They seek to undo, undermine, create uncertainty.

Clay Shirky writes: When we change the way we communicate, we change society.


I was reading a great post the other day by Caterina FakeHow to be Free: Proustian Memory and the Palest Ink. The post was about how Fake had lost everything that was in her laptop when its hard disk crashed.

She writes:

“Days later, after the initial shock had passed, I had a sudden sense of liberation and relief. 1999-2000-2001—I was completely free of those three years— I had no archive.”


“I had no archive” – this is a profound thought.

The ability to every so often empty the archive. To cast off the old ways of thinking, the old ways of doing, the same pavements that we walk every day, the same coffee shop that we buy a latte from every Tuesday…

The ability to strip ourselves of the habits, routines and idiosyncrasies that unconsciously populate our lives.

To establish new rituals, new ways of doing, thinking, communicating…

It is both an unsettling, yet liberating thought.


Fake goes on to write:

“I often wonder if we should build some kind of forgetting into our systems and archives, so ways of being expand rather than contract. … Proustian memory, not the palest ink, should be the ideal we are building into our technology; not what memory recalls, but what it evokes. The palest ink tells us what we’ve done or where we’ve been, but not who we are.

“If we are not given the chance to forget, we are also not given the chance to recover our memories, to alter them with time, perspective, and wisdom. Forgetting, we can be ourselves beyond what the past has told us we are, we can evolve. That is the possibility we want from the future.”


This idea of forgetting got me thinking.

Thinking how as we face the challenges presented to us by social media on both a corporate and personal level, we cling for our lives to what has been, we try to interpret the changes that we face every day within the realm of what we know today. We try to pin down a world that is constantly moving, evolving, reshaping in front of our eyes. We try to make sense of this fleeting moment by grounding it in a time that has long since passed us by.

We long for the comfort our past affords us, but we are equally curious about the unsettling future that is to come. The two rub against each other, and out of this tension, we live in a present of frustration and anxiety, as well as excitement.

But what if we could forget? What if we could clear away, so that we might build anew? A new set of definitions, a new way of looking at things, a new way of evaluating things…

Perhaps not new, but evolving

In this process we do not turn our back on the past. This is not an ‘either’ ‘or’, but an ‘and’. We are able to navigate through a past that informs, a past that is equally able to let go, a past that also embraces what is yet to come because it is an integral part of that future. This is the journey we all face today.


So what if we could forget? What if every so often we could empty our archive?

What would you forget?

What would you put in your new archive?

What would it look like?

What literacies might you need to learn? Not only how to forget, but also how to (re)build?

Do you know?

Do you even dare?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 September 2012 1:19 pm

    Hi Guy, thoughtful post. Reminds of the Marshall McLuhan quote: “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future”


  2. 24 September 2012 11:40 pm

    Very good article. It’s my instagram dilema: I only take photos with my phone so I can share photos instantly on Instagram (and linked accounts) because if I don’t post them straight away, the moment is lost and it would be pointless… nevertheless I make an effort to back up all my instagram photos on my flickr account. Why?

    I have been also thinking about this from a different angle lately. For each of us there is an increasing amount of digital media namely photos, but also videos, sound files etc

    Does all these digital memories prevent us from moving on when we lose a family member or a friend? Do they try to lock us to a utopian point in time that has come and gone?

    And the bigger question is: Is a memory a solid constant or are our memories designed to morph and even degrade? What does these digital memories do to this process?

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