Friday, September 26, 2014

Unforgettable ForgetIT (or is it?)

(One week after posting this I notice that I have a typo in the post title. Who knew there were 2 t's in unforgettable?)

I will admit, the first time I saw a tweet from the ForgetIT project I questioned whether it was some kind of spoof account. It used goofy academic language that to my not always so academic mind bordered on meaningless gibberish. I had a twitter conversation with a colleague about it. He thought it was a spoof.

It isn’t. And fortunately, that tweet was not my final, or definitive encounter with what this project.

As one who has written about death and destruction as they relate to preservation, the fact that there are people thinking about forgetting as it relates to preservation, makes me a little happy.

Below are links to a couple documents which I think do a pretty good job of explaining the project.

"Preservationand Forgetting: Friends or Foes?" by Nattiya Kanhabua and Claudia Niederée
A short and readable introduction to the problem the ForgeIt project is working on.

TowardsConcise Preservation by Managed Forgetting: Research Issues and Case Study” by Nattiya Kanhabua, Claudi NiederĂ©e, and Wolf Siberski. 
A more detailed explanation of the project and the challenges it will attempt to overcome.

I’ll post a handful of quotes which I think fairly characterize the project, and then add some comments. (All quotes will be taking from the first article, unless otherwise noted.)

"Can we learn from human remembering and forgetting in order to develop more advanced preservation technology?" (abstract)

"Our research goal is twofold: 1) to establish effective preservation for more concise and accessible digital memories, and 2) to enable the easier and wider adoption of preservation technology." (abstract)

"The concept of managed forgetting is inspired by the important role of forgetting in the human brain, where forgetting enables us to focus on the things that are relevant instead of drowning in details by remembering everything." (p.1-2)

“In this paper, we propose the introduction of the novel concept of managed forgetting as part of a joint information and preservation management process.” (TCPMF P .1)

 “There is a considerable gap between active information use and preservation activities.”  (TCPMF P.1)

Because digital preservation systems are often not linked to digital productions systems, like a cms, things are often kept online longer than its useful lifespan because no one dares delete it.

"With managed forgetting the system is able to detect such information, and to trigger forgetting actions, which can be taken from a wide variety of possible forgetting actions including elimination of redundancies, aggregation, modification of ranking, and finally, also deletion." (p.2)

Supports facilitated constant appraisal - where when once every piece of information in a collection needed to be kept but now a summary of the information is all that is necessary.

"We envision an idea of gradual forgetting, where complete digital forgetting is just the extreme and a wide range of different levels of condensation for preservation is foreseen." (p.4)

Need to move from binary model of active vs. archived to a seamless progression.

 “If no special actions are taken for long-term preservation, we already face a rather random digital forgetting process in the digital world today.” (TCP P.2)

In discussions of digital preservation, I often find myself thinking - Well, how did/do things happen with analog preservation and how might that inform how we approach digital preservation. But on an even grander scale I sometimes ponder, how did the things that we have that we think of as having been preserverd - or just plain old things - how did these things get to be here. Why are they here and not other things? I also increasingly find myself thinking about other disciplines that do something that they call preservation - or something synonymous - and what can I learn from their vision of preservation to information my world of library related preservation. (i.e. does conserving an ecosystem, or an underwater wreck have something to say about preserving a book?)

The project is built on model of the role of forgetting in the human brain, “important role of forgetting in the human brain, where forgetting enables us to focus on the things that are relevant instead of drowning in details by remembering everything.” (pp. 1-2)

While, the statement above feels reasonable to me, I would be curious if it is also accurate. I don’t mean that statement as a significant challenge to the authors, but they’ve piqued my curiosity and I’d like to see a reference that confirms their explanation of the role of forgetting in the human brain. I think for an approach to preservation that is so modeled on the human brain there isn’t a lot of foundational justification for the accuracy of that model.  (That being said, I don’t know if I particularly care if this is in fact an accurate representation of the human mind an forgetting – I think it is a worthwhile model to pursue regardless.)

It seems one argument with this human brain model is what if you consider human forgetting a flaw that can be compensated by technological remembering. We don't want our computers to learn to behave like our failing bodies, why would we want them to mimic our failing minds?

I would be curious to hear the author’s response. I’m not so sure I really think forgetting is a failing or feature of the mind, a feature to be mimicked, or overcome.

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