Consigned to Temporal or Permanent Oblivion?: Mass Remembering and Forgetting in Electronic Hive Minds

Consigned to Temporal or Permanent Oblivion?: Mass Remembering and Forgetting in Electronic Hive Minds

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9369-0.ch007


Mass and partial forgetting in electronic hive minds (shared consciousness enabled through socio-technical spaces, social media, and information and communications technology [ICT]) is conceptualized as something gradual and organic based on the functions of human memory and accelerated in other cases, depending on the adaptive needs of the EHM. How EHMs form, the proclivity to certain attitudes, favored meta-narratives, the exposure to a wide range of ideas (vs. filter bubbles), and other aspects affect what is retained and what is forgotten. This sheds some light on how some EHMs may coordinate to maintain memory on “critical issues” and “issues of facts” and the roles of those who act as “folk” historians and commemorators and the roles of technology as affordance/enablement and constraint. This work focuses on the hard effort of maintaining collective memory in the ephemera of transient EHMs. Methods for identifying blind spots and invisible spaces in memory in EHMs are suggested, and this method is applied in a walk-through of a portion of a star-based fandom and followership-based EHM. This chapter explores some of the nature of forgetting in EHMs.
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This was how people disappeared from history, wasn’t it? They weren’t erased, they were explained away. - Kate Atkinson, Transcription (2018, p. 235)

Paying attention is the cardinal sign of love. - Lea Carpenter, red white blue (2018, p. 75)

History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. - James Baldwin, 1965

A naïve approach to forgetting is understanding it as a failure of memory. An assumed ideal state is that people would remember everything, without fail. However, more recent research suggests that forgetting may well be an adaptive function; it helps people adjust to different realities without being unduly influenced by distractive information. The research also suggests that memory is highly influence-able by people’s conversations with others, people’s preferences, people’s prior belief systems, and other factors.

In the individual mind, forgetting is both a gradual and normal phenomenon that occurs over time, based on how attentional resources are deployed and what is considered relevant, and an accelerated phenomenon based on how something was first learned and experienced, on experienced emotions, on human attention and intention, on health, on drug use, on situational physical or mental fatigue, on trauma, and other factors (and combinations of factors). Forgetting is also a factor of selectivity—what is not rehearsed vs. what is. The act of remembering selectively affects what is forgotten and how quickly, given memory’s plasticity (malleability) and adaptivity. In group minds, what people value, how they interact, what they focus on, and other factors affect how remembering and forgetting occur en masse.

Electronic hive minds (EHM) are conceptualized as distributed mass consciousness around particular topics of shared interest built on the Web and Internet (Hai-Jew, 2019). As social populations, they exchange information, intercommunicate, and interact, and in so doing, they reinforce some aspects of knowledge and occlude others. For many groups, particularly those that are homophilous, there may be a common canon of understandings and shared values (and potential resulting “echo chambers”), which may bring people together but also prevent broader exploratory learning.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Motivated Forgetting: Purposive forgetting or avoidance of non-remembering.

Mnemonic Silence: Using silence to aid in public memory.

Cognition Through Social Network: Learning through social means.

Electronic Hive Mind: A synchronous temporal and informal patchwork of emergent shared social consciousness (held by geographically distributed people, cyborgs, and robots) enabled by online social connectivity (across a range of social media platforms on the web and internet), based around various dimensions of shared attractive interests.

Aide-Mémoire: An aid to memory, a mnemonic device.

Agenda Setting: The identification of topics that populations should focus on as important or relevant (such as via the role of mass media).

Mnemonic: A device that aids or supports memory, an aide-mémoire.

Lethotechnics: The techniques for forgetting.

Saying-Is-Believing: A testimonial-based remembering of a phenomenon, the reinforcement of an underlying idea through public sharing.

Within-Individual Retrieval-Induced Forgetting (WI-RIF): The forgetting of particular information when an individual is induced to remember some aspects of learning but not others.

Silencing: Muting, the preventing of sharing of information with others.

Motivated Recall: Purposive remembering.

Social Tuning: The phenomenon of people adjusting their own ideas in order to align socially with the ideas of those around them.

Commemorator Role: The position of reminding the larger community of particular historical facts in an electronic hive mind (and in other contexts).

Retrieval-Induced Forgetting (RIF): The calling up of selected memories resulting in the forgetting of non-retrieved related and unrelated memories (includes within-individual RIF and socially-shared RIF), with initial research of this phenomenon in 1994.

Induced Forgetting: Prompted disremembering.

Adaptive Forgetting: The use of forgetting to help individuals and/or groups to better adjust to the larger ecosystem.

Flashbulb Memories: A detailed memory of a particular moment or situation.

Organizational Forgetting: The practice of unlearning within an organization.

Sousveillance: Bottom-up or within-group surveillance by a participant in the activity (in a term coined by Steve Mann.

Socially-Shared Retrieval-Induced Forgetting (SS-RIF): The forgetting of particular information when an individual is induced to remember some aspects of learning through social interactions and inter-communications (social sharing) but not others.

Mass Forgetting: To not think about or to not remember on a large-population scale.

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