Electronic & Organic Memory & Being Human in the 21st Century
The idea that Memory defines who and what we are is an old one in philosophy going back at least to John Locke where he argued that it is memory that guarantees the continuity of consciousness and hence personal identity. Some think that the particular way that human memory works does not just establish and guarantee our identity over time, but also our arguably unique human status: It is our unique memory profile, the way we both remember and forget, that in large part makes us human.
It may then come as a surprise that psychologists, philosophers and other interested parties do not really agree what memory is. Nevertheless it’s interesting to consider that our natural (organic?) memory has undergone profound changes, at least since the discovery of writing, and moreover that new waves of digital media may be changing the way that memory, and our minds, work again.
To look at this another way, what happens to human (organic) memory as it encounters and appropriates new technologies such as Google search, or the megapixel digital camera (electronic or E-Memory technologies) in waves of technological change? In particular, I want to consider how E-Memory devices that we now own and rely on interact with our organic systems. Does the computing cloud, tablet devices and embedded intelligence really change the way we think, and in particular, remember? Might this also then change the sorts of beings we are?
I’ll consider four factors of E-Memory tech that might be said to be signal of the new technologies :
• Capaciousness & Comprehensiveness: E-Memory promises to record our everyday activities on a scale and with a fidelity and completeness that would have been practicably unimaginable under previous regimes of mem-tech.
• Incorporability: E-Memory technologies potentially possess a transparency in use that makes them competitors (or complements) with certain of our internal resources. They are thus poised for deep, pervasive and possibly integration with Organic-Memory systems.
• Autonomy: E-Memory repositories increasingly do not merely store data but actively process it. Thanks to tagging, indexing and AI systems we can expect E-Memory systems to not merely store and re-present information, but restructure it in a way that complements our native cognitive profile.
• Entanglement: E-Memory often tracks interactions between people (or people and organisations). The form of the data that composes many E-Memory stores is inherently relational.