I think therefore I am. But the computer is stealing my brain.

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.

REFS:

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
Press: 184-203

Stiegler, Bernard (n.d.) ‘Anamnesis and Hypomnesis: Plato as the first
thinker of the proletarianisation’ http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis

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