It’s all about Memory

Blog 3:

A few weeks ago I found myself at the centre of my family dining table, squished between relatives, and surrounded by food. It was a ‘get together’ with family, thus the menu was better than the usual boring platter of pasta.  The aroma of sweet onion poured through the room as my father presented a dish of Pasta Genovese (a recipe that stews for eight hours), it was one of those moments – the scent and taste pulled me back to Italy 2003, that is, the last time I ate the dish to such a calibre (bravo dad!).  Hence, this scenario brings me to this week’s topics of memory, time and perception. The notion of memory being evoked through sensory reactions (such as my example) gives weight to Marcel Proust’s “involuntary memory” – memory that is unintentionally triggered by something (e.g. taste, smell etc), generating a rather vivid moment, so much so that “it is almost as if you are there”, in the place you created the memory (Collins 2012).

These sensations build a relationship between our mind and the environment and convey how our memories are indistinguishably connected to our external surroundings, as described by Stiegler (n.d.), “a part of ourselves is outside of us”.  Stiegler (n.d.) proposes technical supports are what jog our “natural memory” and provide the context for all memory.  He therefore suggests that the history of humans and memory is no longer in the sphere of genetic evolution but rather that of technical evolution (Stiegler 2006).

This proposes that we are entrenched and tied to the external world via mind, memory and perception. However, in essence with Stiegler, by aiding our cognitive process through reliance on technologies, e.g. a GPS for directions, or mobile phone for storage (e.g. numbers), we detach ourselves from our natural (internal) memory. In turn, risking and losing our knowledge as we become ever more dependent on technologies as a memory source (stiegler n.d.). I believe this idea is particularly relevant to today’s world with the mass growth of technology and fast pace society, it seems humans are becoming ever more dependent on mnemotechnical equipment as a storage tool.

I believe that the extended mind thesis can be viewed as an extension of mnemotechnical equipment as it acknowledges how external objects play an important role in aiding our cognitive process (Murphie 2013, p.21). The mind and environment work as a “coupled experience” (Wikipedia 2013) in which the mind uses certain external elements as a memory tool, which can be regarded as an extension of the mind (David Chalmers, The Extended Mind Revisited 2009). For example, when you park in a car park you take note of the colour, symbol, a certain object and/or number on that level in order to remember where you parked. Without fail every time I go shopping with mum the words: “listen carefully to what I’m about to say…” come pouring out, this comment signals that I should pay close attention to what follows –  “we are parked on P5 yellow, remember that!” , and without further ado I snap a photo of the signage (e.g. P5 yellow) with my Iphone. Not only is this an example of laziness, mnemotechnology and external memory but it also demonstrates metacommunication, that is communication about communication (Classle 2011). My mum communicated (through her warning) how her next point of communication (P5 Yellow) was going to be important.

This is where I find the practice of aiding the memory or mnemotechnics fascinating (Stiegler n.d.), because mnemotechnical equipment in some instances can be used to teach the mind and then eventually be disregarded. For example, children’s learning cards (mnemotechnical tool) associate text with image to teach children the alphabet, words and the ability to distinguish and associate these words with what a cat, dog or tree is etc. What they learn gets stored in their internal archive and eventually, without an external aid (learning card) they can recall what the word “cat” is associated to (image of furry animal) or how to spell it and so forth. Thus, mnemotechnical equipment at times helps us to learn and remember to such an extent that eventually we can rely on our “natural memory” for recall and not external objects.

COMIC


An example of how mnemotechnical equipment such as children’s learning cards work as memory tools and can teach children to correctly identify things. Double click to see larger version. Copyright Marcella Gallace 2013

Hence,   I don’t believe that memory is totally reliant on the outside world, if so it doesn’t explain how we know how to speak, or how we remember the alphabet, key dates and so on – this is something naturally and internally stored in our mind. Thus, I accept that memory can be internally recalled as well as triggered by external elements and technologies. I find the topics of memory, perception and metacommunication extremely interesting, prior to these readings and the lecture I hadn’t thought of memory in this light – I now see how memory is attached to technology, and the exterior world, aspects of research I will defiantly consider when looking at communication for the final research project.

Reference:

Classle 2011, accessed 26 March 2013, <https://www.classle.net/content-page/metacommunication-affects-meaning# >.

Collins, N 2012, ‘Smells can trigger emotional memories, study finds’, The Telegraph UK, 28 January, accessed 25 March 2013, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/9042019/Smells-can-trigger-emotional-memories-study-finds.html>.

David Chalmers, The Extended Mind Revisited, 2009, Hong Kong, online video, accessed 26 March 2013, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S149IVHhmc>.

Gallace, M 2013, pen drawing and photoshop.

Murphie, A 2013, “Arts3091, Advanced Media Issues: New Media, Cultural and Social Change”, Study Kit, University of NSW, pp.20-24.

Stiegler, B 2006, Cinema as mnemotechnics: Bernard Stiegler and the industrialisation of memory, e-book, accessed 26 March 2013, <http://www.academia.edu/1115989/Cinema_as_mnemotechnics_Bernard_Stiegler_and_the_industrialisation_of_memory>.

Stiegler, B n.d, Anamnesis and Hypomnesis: Plato as the first thinker of the proletarianisation, arsindustralis, accessed 26 March 2013, <http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis>.

Wikipedia 2013, Extended Mind, accessed 26 March 2013, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_Mind>.

Media Ecologies – Are they finally breaking down?

Blog 2:

The term “media ecology” refers to the way media communication techniques, technology, and forms of information influence society and help dictate cultural patterns of behaviour (Media Ecology Association 2009). As a discipline, media ecology is closely linked to concepts of technological determinism, by which it also assumes that changes in media technology or new methods of communication can directly affect society and culture.

Media ecologies were once the instrument of the elite or politically powerful. For example, print media made it feasible for governments to create ‘particular’ views of society, in turn influencing what humans perceived as ‘reality’. Nazi propaganda is a simple example of this (that comes to mind), as a persuasive new medium emerging during the 1930s it was used by Hitler and the German government to mould and sway popular thoughts in the public. This control of information technology can be referred to as a “monopoly of knowledge”, because “those in possession of scarce information technology hoard and wield the advantages it provides” (Levinson 1997), as was done with Nazi propaganda by persuading a one-side view.

propaganda Poster

    Holocaust Propaganda Poster: Hinter den Feindmachten: de Jude(Behind Enemy Lines: The Jew)

The Nazi propaganda poster above is a prime example of how “monopoly of knowledge” was used by the powerful to influence the public. The poster is one-sided, fixated on depicting Jews as evil, evident through the bold and upper case caption emphasising the words: The Jew. The man’s attire and the Star of David clearly distinguish him as Jewish (along with title) – his deceitful facial expression representing Jews as an entity to be untrustworthy people; the enemy. That is, the enemy fuelling Germany’s enemy powers – USA, UK and Russia (conveyed through flags). Audiences’ of this poster were mainly Germans and German sympathises, who, as described by Foss (Holocaust Propaganda 2012) were “vulnerable due to WWI and ready to blame their enemies for suffering” – and thus Nazi propaganda as a new medium at the time used authoritarian power to distribute such posters – with the aim to influence German citizens and supporters, in hope of dictating a Nazi cultural pattern of hatred towards the Jews and any other enemy of Germany.

However, today, with internet and technology evolving at such a rapid pace, “monopolies of knowledge” are (to a degree) beginning to break down. As described by Levinson (1997), “computer elites are in-practice self-eliminating, because computers are getting both cheaper and easier to use”. Thus, with the everyday person understanding how to use a computer, and the internet allowing anyone to contribute and share information online it’s evident that unlike the old days (Levinson’s Ancient Egypt example where complex writing system was only understood by literate priests and scribes), you don’t have to be an elite or expert to gain or share knowledge.

Milissa Deitz (2010) in The new media ecology acknowledges how access to media is a significant aspect of the democratic process. She describes how the current media landscape is challenging traditional conventions and frameworks of journalism; wiki leaks, non-journalists, and bloggers are just a few examples of how journalism is changing, with non-professional reporting the news. Feliz Guattari (ref) also acknowledges how the evolution of technology has allowed us to interact with media or a more personal scale, describing how political processes have changed with creative powers of invention demanding “laboratories of thought and experimentation for future forms of subjectivation”.  Furthermore, Deitz (2010) expresses how “information that was once protected by insiders and vested interests is now potentially available to all”, a reference to Wiki Leaks, and describes how through such evolution, “Big Brother is us”. Reinforcing the notion of “monopolies of knowledge” braking down, with information now coming from an array of sources; it (online landscape) is the birth of a democratic community.

The notion of media ecology has changed the way I think about media and the direct effects media can have on society and culture. It has made me question how technologies, old and new have influenced society or if they do this at all.  Although I am not a hundred percent fixed on a topic for the final research assignment, I believe the concepts of media ecology more than likely will have a presence in my assignment, how much so will be dependent on the subject I choose for the assignment.

Word: Machinic

Reference:

‘Analysis of Propganda Poster: Behind the Enemy Line: The Jew’, Holocaust Propaganda, 9 April, 2012, accessed 19 March 2012, < http://propagandaholocaust.wix.com/eng333/apps/blog/analysis-of-propaganda-poster-behind-enemy-powers&gt;.

Deitz, M 2010, ‘The New Media Ecology’, On Line Opinion: Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate, accessed 19 March 2013, <http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=11410&page=1>.

Fuller, M 2005, ‘Introduction: Media Ecologies’ in Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture’, Cambridge, MA; MIT Press, pp. 1-12.

Kozulin, A 1993, ‘Literature as a psychological tool’, Educational Psychologist, vol. 28, no. 3, summer, pp. 253-265.

Levinson, P 1997, ‘The First Digital Medium in Soft Edge; a natural history and future of the information revolution’, London, Routledge, pp.11-20.

Media Ecology Association 2009, accessed 19 March 2013, <http://www.media-ecology.org/media_ecology/>.

Contrary Views: Technological Determinism Vs Cultural Materialism

Blog 1:

Among this week’s readings arose the topic of technology and culture, where two divergent beliefs regarding the interplay of technology and culture emerged; that is, “a contest between a technological determinist position and a cultural materialist one” (Murphie & Potts 2003, p. 11). These contrasting theories present opposing views on the relationship of technology and society, where technological determinism believes that (solely) technology is responsible for changing cultural values and social structure (Murphie & Potts 2003, p.11). While, cultural materialism, which steers away from such a one-sided argument, reasons that in fact political intention and social need are major factors involved in technological development (Murphie & Potts 2003, p.18).

Technological determinism can be used to describe how technology has influenced human evolution. One of the most prominent, yet controversial advocates of technological determinism is Marshall McLuhan who suggested that the “cultural significance of media lies not in their content, but in the way they alter our perception of the world” (Murphie & Potts 2003, p. 13 cited in McLuhan 1974, p.16). McLuhan concluded that technology, such as radio, TV and the printing press created new spaces for individuals to inhabit on a mental and physical basis and thus he argued that as humans adapted to these “new spaces”, that the “patterns of [their] perception steadily [altered] without resistance” (Murphie & Potts 2003, p. 13 cited in McLuhan 1974, p.16). Thus they changed; they evolved from technology.

While reading this, an example of technological determinism that came to mind are mobile phones. Twenty years back they did not exist and today they are everywhere. From a technological determinist stance these devices can be recognised as having made the world a “smaller world” (Murphie & Potts 2003, p.36), by allowing people to connect almost anywhere, at anytime, this notion goes the same for social networking. These advancements in technology have enhanced connectivity and in turn driven homogenisation of economic globalisation. They have created new digital societies gradually and without “resistance” – the mobile phone, at first offered communication on a strictly oral and text basis, today it offers live visual chat, internet connectivity, photo communication and so on, all unfolding without “resistance”.

The unveiling of Samsung’s Galaxy S4 in New York last week (to be released May/June 2013) is an example of how fast technology is advancing, with the Galaxy S3, Samsungs preceding phone only coming out mid June 2012. The Galaxy S4 highlights this notion of technology developing without “resistance”; offering its users 150 new features, some include taking photos and videos with the front and rear cameras at the same time; flipping between web pages, answering calls, scrolling up and down etc without touching the phone and the phone is even patient enough to detect whether you’re looking at it and then pause and restart the video you’re viewing (CNet 2013). Thus, I argue that this idea of technology developing without “resistance” has merit; mobiles (as just one example)continue to be advanced and society is doing nothing to stop it, if anything we are fuelling it by continuously updating our phones in order to keep up and own the latest gadget.

I believe (some) humans are becoming so absorbed in their mobile phones that they are beginning to become ignorant of the outside world (just a personal reflection), for example, ever had a friend that pulls out their mobile while on a dinner or coffee outing? Ignoring you in the process… Mobile phones could be said to echo McLauhan’s “global village” theory, that is, they create a “total perceptual field” in contrast to the order patterns of the world (Murphie & Potts 2003, p.14).

Opposing technological determinism is cultural materialism, as previously mentioned it accounts human need and political intention as significant factors in developing technology (Murphie & Potts 2003, p.18). Raymond Williams, a cultural materialist was critical of McLuhan because he believed that social, economic, political and institutional factors indeed influenced the need for new systems and growth in media and technology. Cultural materialism suggests that society influences the development of technology; a requirement by society must be distinguished and is then assisted to by technological growth and expansion (Murphie & Potts 2003, p.18).. For example, Williams explains how after WW1 social conditions changed, there was growth in society due to this event; “larger cities, more mobile populations, greater emphasis on family home” (Murphie & Potts 2003, p. 18 cited Williams 1975). This therefore meant there was a need for more extensive means of communication and pushed the growth of the radio from a “point-to-point communication…redeployed as a form of mass broadcasting” (Murphie & Potts 2003, p.18). Thus exemplifying how society influenced the development of technology at that point and time.

Interestingly, I’m not sure if I support either of the arguments a hundred percent, while I believe both technological determinism and cultural materialism present steady points I feel both beliefs contain flaws. Technological determinism ignores a major factor, those who create the technology; humans and thus they as the mechanics behind technology influence its growth (I believe). Furthermore, the development of technology isn’t as simple as society having a “need” and technology being created to meet this need as suggested by cultural materialism; first it must be possible to develop the technology (e.g. the field of medicine, there is a need for technology to restore human mobility and yes society has influenced the research behind such technology, however, a breakthrough in such technology remains nonexistent).

This week’s lecture and readings has offered me different ways of thinking theoretically about society and culture. At this point and time I’m still not sure what my research topic will be.  However, I am intrigued by the thoughts behind technological determinism and cultural materialism and would like to use these beliefs in the analyses and evaluation of my research subject when I come to settle on one.

Reference:

Murphie, A & Potts, J 2003, Theoretical Frameworks in Culture and Technology, London, Palgrave Macmillan, pp 11-38.

‘Samsung Galaxy S4 keeps calm, carries on with big screen, 8-core chip and, yes, eye tracking’, Cnet, 13 March, accessed 13 March 2013, <http://reviews.cnet.com/samsung-galaxy-s4/>.