ISSN: 1550-7521

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Research Article Open Access

Memory Work in the Digital Age: Exploring the Boundary Between Universal and Particular Memory Online.


Interactive media have altered the basic relationship between contemporary individuals and their cultural texts. The ability of individuals broadcast their lives, thoughts, and stories begs the question: What is the relationship between collective and individual memory within the age of new media? As Barbie Zelizer argues in her Reading the Past Against the Grain, collective memory is a dualistic creation containing both the particular and the universal (p. 230). While collective memories are based on individual lived memories, they also constitute a commonality, a universal story. The memory must exist simultaneously as the particular and universal, remaining clear and significant at both the micro and macro level of interpretation. In order to do so, the memory is mediated materially or conceptually through a meso-level structure: a memorial. This essay explores the changes occurring through new media in the representation of collective memory as individuals increasingly write their own stories into “memorials.” By drawing on collective memory literature and focusing on a series of classification for contemporary online memorialization, this study seeks to investigate the tradeoffs inherent in the translation from the individual to the collective: Is there a point at which the texture of individual voice is lost in the chorus, or the chorus is reduced to a cacophony? Utilizing several examples of online storytelling memorials, including This American Life, StoryCorps, and The Tate Modern Intermedia site NoPlace, this essay explores the balance between the power of particularity and the appeal of the universal and offers several categories by which to read these tradeoffs: everyday designed, everyday edited, and everyday abstracted.

Hillary Savoie

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