Mnemotechnics describes the externalisation of our memory. Upon first hearing this, the notion can sound daunting and almost like some Frankenstein experiment where our they extract our brains and memory. But really, we’ve been externalising our memory for years through even the most simple of things like writing. Bernard Stiegler labels these forms as mnemotechnologies:
“Ideogrammatic writing springing up after the neolithic period leads to the alphabet – which yet today organizes the agenda of the manager, but this calendary object is henceforth an apparatus : the personal data planner; and it is no longer a mnemotechnic, but a mnemotechnology”. (Stiegler n.d.)
We write notes to ourselves and use diaries to plan our weeks because our own minds cannot keep track of it all. Stiegler’s claim that to write these memories down makes it knowledge. This gives it great value for if a piece of paper with important notes is lost, that knowledge is also lost.
Stiegler describes our growing reliance on technologies: “Now, these 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. To lose a cell phone is to lose the trace of the telephone numbers of our correspondents and to realise that they are no longer in the psychical memory but in the apparatuss’s.” (Stiegler n.d.)
The more we understand this, the more we can recognise how reliant we are on external objects to hold our memories and knowledge. Andy Clark and David Chalmers consider this in their book The Extended Mind and look at our cognitive processes and external objects as a system. This reminds of me of the European theory of media ecology and the idea of complex systems, interdependent upon each other.
Do we become more dependent on mnemotechnologies and external objects because our own memory can’t contain it all and we need to be, or because it’s easier for us? In the movie Memento, Guy Pearce’s character suffers from short term memory loss and can’t create any new memories. Instead he takes polaroid photos of people he meets and writes notes about them, and tattoos important information on his body. Here is forced to rely on external objects to help him remember, but at times his short term memory loss is dangerous.
Perhaps we need to consider whether our dependence on mnemotechnologies means our memory is not getting the credit it deserves and we could find ourselves in situations where we need to rely on our own memory but can’t.
Final Project: This has got me thinking about how new media extend our memory potential, and our relationship with them because of this.
Stiegler, Bernard (n.d.) ‘Anamnesis and Hypomnesis: Plato as the first thinker of the proletarianisation’ <http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis>
Chalmers, David (2009) ‘The Extended Mind Revisited [1/5], at Hong Kong, 2009’, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S149IVHhmc>