Tag Archives: Eviatar Zerubavel

Agenda Setting Temporal Strategies

This is truly a short, incomplete “blog” post. Usually the posts found here on my personal website are fleshed out, edited, short-form articles and think pieces. This current post, in contrast, is incomplete, not yet edited, and truly brief rough draft of an initial idea. The purpose of which is to place it into the “record” so to speak and remind myself to return to it, and ultimately complete it, and re-post. For now, it is meant to simply plant a flag within this very narrow and specific conceptual territory.

This piece begins by combining Crogan’s (2011) observation on the desire to predict and control the future via a military-based anticipatory mindset, E. Zerubavel’s (2003) term “pre-ruins” or bridges to future pasts, and Rosen’s (2010) insight on the Internet as the end of forgetting. The sum of these parts adds to E. Zerubavel’s work on the establishment of calendars as the social organizers of national memory. It marries this desire to control memory with the contemporary technological capacity for a persistent archive to pre-plan and configure temporal mental scapes.

In previous eras governments and new nation states actively attempted to construct identity through the construction of calendars and commemorative events (Zerubavel, 1995). To “think the state” (Anderson, 1983) became a significant component to its cohesion while direct messaging, in the form of propaganda, rose (World War I) and matured (World War II) during the early-to-mid twentieth century. However, it wasn’t until speedy computational machines with large enough memory, were those in power able to extend their desires for control and stability from construction of an imagined past or a particular identity, to the unknown future itself. This began with the military’s desire to construct an anticipatory mindset (Crogan, 2011) to thwart at first missile launches and as calculations improved, a whole host of predictive modeling involving countless variables.

We see glimmers of this type of thought poking through now and again. For example, historian Philip Beidler (1998) shares that historian Michael Kammen once “wryly” noted that some small town mayor does seem to always come up with a new slogan that “progress being a tradition.” (p. 170). I also witnessed London’s historical tourist areas in 2013 putting up large banners around construction areas proclaiming “getting ready to remember!” Even Seattle post-punk rock band The Intelligence contributed in 2015 by titling its album Vintage Future.

            We can add two more items to the combination of Crogan’s insight that the military, in desiring to anticipate so that it could counter Cold War missile attacks, created an anticipatory mindset, a tendency, as per E. Zerubavel, to design objects explicitly for memory, and Rosen’s point that our information infrastructure is designed against forgetting. First, our information search engines are designed, through the use of cookies and surveilling behavior, to adapt, learn, and provide more efficient customizable results to us. Our potential to stumble onto “new” or “alternative” information is increasingly limited. Second, commercial strategies always desire a proven sellers and more often replicates previous successes than invite risk through newer forms, concepts, and ideas. When we add up these five perspectives, the sum result is an intentional strategy to mould the future and eliminate risk. But unlike Crogan’s military history, these intentions bleed into cultural aspects of our society.

Today, in a much more benign way, private industries whose product are social media platforms, combine the reach of old school propaganda with the state’s older strategies at commemorative construction to prod users to “remember” particular moments or events they may not have had any affinity towards remembering. What began with the Timehop service was expanded by Facebook with its “On This Day” feature. A function that attempts to remind you of only positive memories, avoiding painful ones, in the hope it might help you steady or increase your usage of Facebook, since it slowly become your personal archive and mnemonic structure. This literal program for remembrance is the most significant component, though the culture of nostalgia as reliable business strategy should also be noted as a proper context for these times.