Memory Makes Us at Books in Browsers

A few days ago, I was invited to talk at the Books in Browsers conference in San Francisco.

Produced and sponsored by the New York Public Library and the Frankfurt Book Fair, Books in Browsers is a small summit for the new generation of internet publishing companies, focusing on developers and designers who are building and launching tools for online storytelling, expression, and art.

My talk was about the if:book project I've been running all this year called Memory Makes Us

Memory Makes Us creates an interface between writers and readers and blurs the boundaries of each throughout the creative process. The project gathers a group of authors to write live in a public space using as their inspiration memories contributed by the audience to a theme chosen by the authors.

This presentation explores the project in detail and challenges assumptions about the book’s place within a wider body of text, the nature of collaborative writing, and the permanence of physical and digital media.

Memory Makes Us takes place simultaneously online and in a physical space. Online, readers contribute memories via a dedicated project web site or using a social media hashtag. The authors write to a publicly accessible document embedded in the project site. The live event sees the authors working in an open location within a literary festival. The audience records their memories using typewriters and notepads, hand-delivering them to the authors at work. However, the complete body of work in Memory Makes Us is the web site where writers’ and readers’ contributions are of equal significance.

Standard online collaborative writing tools define access by editing rights. Instead this project creates a role for readers as influencers and inspiration, while recognising and honouring a singular author’s vision.

All work produced for Memory Makes Us, both physical and digital, is ephemeral, with a deliberately limited lifespan. The project’s legacy will rely on the memories of its participants and readers.