Making the Perfect Record: From Inscription to Impression in Early Magnetic Recording

Making Records

In their research on computation and new media, Wendy Chun and Johanna Drucker make similar observations about the construction—rather than the capture or permanence—of records and data. Chun (2008, 167) writes: “Digital media, which is allegedly more permanent and durable than other media (film stock, paper, and so on), depends on a degeneration actively denied and repressed. This degeneration, which engineers would like to divide into useful and harmful (eraseability versus signal decomposition, information versus noise) belies the promise of digital computers as permanent memory machines. If our memory machines’ memories are more permanent, if they enable a permanence that we seem to lack, it is because they are constantly refreshed so that their ephemerality endures, so that they may store the programs that seem to drive our machines.” Meanwhile, Drucker (2011, para. 3) observes the following: “Differences in the etymological roots of the terms data and capta make the distinction between constructivist and realist approaches clear. Capta is ‘taken’ actively while data is assumed to be a ‘given’ able to be recorded and observed. From this distinction, a world of differences arises. Humanistic inquiry acknowledges the situated, partial, and constitutive character of knowledge production, the recognition that knowledge is constructed, taken, not simply given as a natural representation of pre-existing fact.” In this essay, I extend Drucker’s constructivist logic even further and replace “taken” with “making.” My argument is also informed by Chun’s (2008) enduring ephemeral and her emphasis on degenerating materials and memories—on active forgetting.

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