This week is all about the transference of memory and the way they are stored, interacted with and shared (among other things) in our world today. Wendy Hui KYong Chun is a good place to start thinking about the relationship between human memory and technology. The ontology of computer technologies (mainly storage technologies) is “defined by memory” (P.188). These tools are focused on the preservation or the recording of details, just like our brains record moments in time. There some who have argued that such explicit recording has been good for society. Vannevar Bush wrote in As we may think of a device known as the memex (similar to an early computer system) and how this device helped represent a need to mechanise our records and in turn help our society move on to more complex needs by avoiding an “overtaxing of [our] limited memory” with storage of simple equations and well-trodden ideas(Chun, P.190). I think there’s a certain amount to be said for the optimism of Bush’s ideas here however I firmly believe, out my own experiences that human knowledge builds upon the solid and what is already known. How can we be expected to defy the rules and break new boundaries in discovery if the rules only exist in an externally stored capacity? Chun actually exemplifies one of the major worries of this by discussing the degenerative nature of computer memory (P.192). It’s an interesting point in that what happens if we are to lose all the memories (or more broadly data) that are contained on our technological platforms? I’d probably go even further though and counter Chun on why this might not be a problem. Human memory fades just like technological memory, it’s subject to ‘viruses’ just like computers (in this case diseases like alzheimers etc.) or simply lost among the masses of other files. After thinking about this parallel it led me to reconsider writing off Bush’s argument for external storage so quickly. Arguably even, we have better methods for controlling loss prevention of data that is external than we do on data that exists only in our heads. We can build more hard drives and transfer data, however there is no cure for diseases like alzheimers.
Through this process some have argued that there’s a certain loss of humanity. Bernard Stiegler argues that objects, including technology, can be memory bearing. The constant relationship with what Stiegler calls ‘mnemotechnological ‘ devices has led to them becoming ‘cognitive’ technologies in which “we are confiding a greater and greater part of our memory”. In doing so we’re complicating the relationship between us and technology. Just how close are we? This dilemma, this loss of humanity recalls the movie Blade Runner which involves a premise centring on the ambiguous humanity of humanoids. In that film one of the humanoids (called replicants) states to the human cop Deckard “I think therefore, I am” a quote from famous philosopher Descartes. It perhaps sums up the dilemma of the film and Stiegler quite succinctly. What is human? Because if it’s just a bunch of memories we’re well on the way to giving some humanity to machines.
Kyong-Chun, Wendy Hui (2011) ‘The Enduring Ephemeral, or The Future
is a Memory’ in Huhtamo, Errki and Parikka, Jussi (eds.) Media Archaeology:
Approaches, Applications, and Implications. Berkeley: University of California
Stiegler, Bernard (n.d.) ‘Anamnesis and Hypomnesis: Plato as the first
thinker of the proletarianisation’ http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis
Media Ecology is the main focus of this week’s lectures and readings and admittedly it’s been a very confusing experience. I’ve found that all of these authors are throwing definitions and terms into the air and getting my head around them has been something of a challenge. It was nice to see then an excerpt from Neil Postman (LINK) that acted as a key to unlocking what the whole point of media ecology actually is: “the study of media as environments”. Many authors have come to this same conclusion of media being considered an environment of interrelations involving but not limited to “rhythms, codes, politics, capacities, predispositions and drives” (Fuller, P.2). These environmental interrelations are constantly informing and influencing each other, perhaps especially so, in the intangibility of the digital age. During this process we’re seeing the development of culture through the creation of new relationships and meanings across what is now predominantly a digital landscape. Interestingly, Matthew Fuller suggests that this is why the word ecology is explicitly used to describe the phenomena, because it is the only word with a history and association with dynamic interrelations on a major scale (an ecology brings to mind something big after all).
Felix Guattari wrote some really interesting stuff on ecologies of media. Impressively he died before the web was even created so his response and theories were based mostly upon the traditional media of print, radio and television. Guattari speaks of an “ecologically informed variant of anarchism” where goals are negotiated as a collective rather than decided by the richest or the one with the most influence (LINK). Guattari was apparently very critical of television for this reason, it is a one way platform controlled by the content creators and gatekeepers of information. The evolved ecological landscape that the internet has brought about is really exciting for just the reason exactly it has the potential to avoid many of the gatekeepers of content and information. One area that really interests me in regards to this is piracy and the accessibility of film content. There was a time you had to wait for TV to air the movie you want to see, now bootlegging ‘thieves’ are sharing the films online while they’re still in cinemas. It’s seen this whole political movement open up online about access to content, with a lot of young people pining for copy-protection free media to do as they like, whenever they like with their video content rather than have their habits dictated by ‘the man’.
Now to change topics a little I just want to mention Bateson who talks a bit about the metacommunicative qualities of language and communication practices. Milberry writes about how “symbol systems and technologies…play an integral role in how we create and understand reality” a fact which Bateson’s writing expands upon by adding a bit of depth. “A message of whatever kind” he says “does not consist of those objects it denotes” (P.180). I felt like this is something we’re already aware of but it was interesting to sort of start thinking about explicitly. The phrase ’words are to objects as a map is to territory’ (Bateson’s words not mine) really help to start breaking down what it is to create meaning, especially in an increasingly immediate and digital age. The main thing however is that i feel like i’ve started to get my head around this whole ecology thing. Who knew writing all this stuff down and talking about it would help make sense of the whole thing? Learning in action folks.