If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind is controllable – what then? — George Orwell, in 1984
The other day, my friend approached me, crying her eyes out as if something terrible had happened. Seeing this, I felt compelled to ask her what was wrong and whether she was hurt. It turned out, she had been on the train to meet me and when a man walked past her smelling of her ex-boyfriend’s cologne. To me, this seemed a trivial thing but evidently enough, the memories that this scent carried was too much for my dear friend to handle.
With this story, I begin my discussion of this week’s topic – memory.
When most of people hear the term ‘memory’, they think of their first train ride, their first tooth falling out… I could go on. But here, I argue that there is a lot more to memory than this, and it may not be as ‘natural’ and clean cut as we may think.
According to Stiegler, humans never possessed ‘natural’ memory, untouched by technics. Rather, memory is argued to have been exteriorised from the start and now, with greater technological advancements has come the development of ‘cognitive technologies’ that we rely on when storing and recalling memories. For instance, while before, we may have memorised people’s phone numbers, remembered important dates and made mental notes, we now have the mobile phone to store all our contacts, make reminders of key dates and events, and create new entries into our ‘memo’ applications. This has arguably created a structural loss of memory while simultaneously affording greater power to these particular devices.
The greatest example of this would have to be the uneasiness people (generation X and Y in particular) feel when they are without their mobile phones. If I were to leave my house without my phone and I faced an emergency, not only would I have no means of contacting anyone, but even if I were to come across a payphone, would not be able to recall my mother’s mobile phone number. Years ago, I could recall approximately ten phone numbers from the top of my head. During the days of dial up internet and black and white phones, that is.
However, not only do new technologies challenge human’s ability to remember and take control by storing information, it actively intervenes in our sense of the past and our subsequent interpretation of the future. For example, each time you flick through the gallery on your mobile phone, the way you recall the context in which the photo was taken changes – over time, some components seem clear while others are blurred.
As such, memory is somewhat ‘virtual’ as there exists a dynamic relationship between remembering-forgetting, and habit-conscious thought
Ars Industrialis. 2012. ‘Anamnesis and Hypomnesis’. Accessed March 27 <http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis>
Brain Blogger. 2013. ‘Mind Games – Science’s Attempts at Thought Control’. Accessed March 27 <http://brainblogger.com/2011/12/28/mind-games-sciences-attempts-at-thought-control/>