Can you remember this?

There used to be a particular funny phrase that my mother used to mutter to me as she sighed at my repeated forgetfulness as a child: “Don’t you know that what sets humans apart from animals is the ability to think?! Why can’t you just remember to do things?”.

While my mother no longer leaps to act on her maternal instincts when I unintentionally leave the iron on after hurriedly getting ready for work or spill a hot plate of soup all over myself by foolishly thinking that yes, of course with my two hands I can carry 6 bowls at once and did you say you wanted a cup of tea too?, this week’s topic of memory not only fittingly recalled the above scenarios from my childhood but also certainly challenged my perception of my past, present and future experiences: How much am I consciously ‘thinking’ or ‘remembering’ a memory, as opposed to following a technic? To what extent do I rely on media technologies to recall memories, and in admitting so, how does global mnemotechnics (the globalisation of media technologies) impact on my, and the general society’s, day-to-day experience?

Like many others, when I ‘remember’ my childhood I look to it fondly, ‘remembering’ some funny or endearing event that I can recall even today at the ripe age of 20. However, these particular incidents of the past that I am ‘remembering’ are not what the Greek philosophers would have considered “natural” memory – rather, I am engaging in what Chalmers (2009) describes as ‘external memory’, whereby “parts of the environment are coupled to a cognitive system in the right way… [so that] they become parts of the mind”. In reality, what I perceive to be a ‘memory’ is in fact a puzzle-match of my active “symbolic processing” (Murphie 2013) from my “tertiary memory” (Stiegler in Cohen, 2001); historical moments that have been aided through the use of mnemotechniques such as my mother’s writing of journals, taking photographs, recording home videos, and engaging with verbal recounts from aunties and uncles that have reshaped my ‘experience’ over and over again to present what I perceive to be a natural memory of sorts.

In realising this, I heartily confirmed the validity of Stiegler (n.d.)’s remarks that “cognitive technologies, to which we confide a greater and greater part of our memory, cause us to lose an ever-greater part of our knowledge”. Especially given the unprecedented rate at which media technologies are fast becoming digitised and hence globalised with an increased ease of access to self-generated data, Stiegler’s (n.d.) view in the danger – or is it inevitability? – of global mnemotechnics which would permit the equipment and its service industry to gain a ‘control of knowledge’ resonated deeply.

We live in a day and age where it is considered normal to instinctively whip out a smartphone to record just about anything that happens in one’s daily life and not only publish it on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter which are solely built for the purposes of sharing, but also actively archive these through ‘tagging’ the time, location, and others present at the event.  This unbarred willingness that we exercise in transferring the responsibility of retaining of memories and the trust that we place in the media technologies to archive these events and tags to act as “tertiary memory” (Stiegler n.d.) later on, shook and tore apart any fundamental belief I held for my ability to recall ‘memories’; my memories are not simply mine anymore, but a currency for the service industry to model, manipulate, sell or even destroy.

Google Ads Preferences

Your photos and check-ins are not all the data that companies are gathering on you: Google Ads Preferences shows how you’ve been classified using your cookie history to classify your demographic and interests, which are then used to target you with Google Ads.                         (Photo credit: J.Bae)

But was this really a conscientious choice on my behalf? Noë (2008) comments in his interview that “…experience, {and] consciousness, is always… necessarily environmentally situated”. When Facebook initially pushed the geo-tagging feature of ‘Check In’ to all users in 2010,  the public – myself included – were apprehensive of its potential to infringe on their privacy rights. Since then however, I’ve been dropping the ubiquitous red pins left right and centre to remember and archive the good nights out I had with my friends, or a particularly memorable moment. By having the option there and seeing others use it, I too grew fond of the feature. The existence of such media technologies and the globalisation of these media technologies – or global mnemotechnics, as Stiegler (n.d.) would call it – has culled in me the need to exteriorise my emotional memory and exercise what Chalmers identifies as the ‘extended mind’; a meshed, interrelated system between the body, mind and environment as one, as to embed my presence and consciousness in the world around me, as well as within myself.

While it would be childish of me to point the finger at Facebook and blame its innovative features that allow me to share more about myself than anyone has ever before, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think that these global mnemotechnologies greatly influenced and increased the complexity of human experience. We now not only have to monitor and maintain our physical and mental selves but also the third dimension of self that is online, just to be able to remember what exactly it was that we were doing two weeks ago on a Friday afternoon, where we were and with whom.

The notion of memory, thinking and action has been the most interesting topic for me thus far as a framework for viewing new media and its influence on cultural and social change. Thus I hope to incorporate this into my research project in a way that will hopefully elicit a general understanding of how my fellow peers view the role of global mnemotechnics in shaping our identities, including all our past experiences that are embedded in our memories – wherever we may have stored them.

References

Chalmers, D. 2009, ‘The Extended Mind Revisited [1/5], at Hong Kong, 2009’, viewed 26 March 2013, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S149IVHhmc>.

Murphie, A. 2013, Advanced Media Issues: New Media, Cultural and Social Change, a study guide distributed by The University of New South Wales, Sydney for Semester 1, 2013, pp.20-24.

Noë, A & Solano, M.B. 2008, ‘Dance as a way of knowing: interview with Alva Noë’, June 16, 2008, viewed 26 March 2013, <http://www.dance-tech.net/video/1462368:Video:19594>.

Stiegler, Bernard (n.d.), Anamnesis and Hypomnesis: Plato as the first thinker of the proletarianisation, article, Ars Industrialis, viewed 26 March 2013,  <http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis>.

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