Memory in the Age of Electracy

11 October 2007 at 1:25 pm 1 comment

I am reading Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, which talks about the neurological effects of learning to read–that is, how written words changes our mindbrains and possibly enables new levels of thought, changing the process of thinking itself. This book is absolutely fascinating and an important one for “grammatologists” (those who study the theory and history of writing). At one point she speaks of Socrates’ objections to writing as a threat to oral culture and the kind of learning he valued. Wolf is a kind of modern-day Socrates who wants us to consider what we are losing in the transition from literacy to “electracy” (i.e. the “literacy” of new electronic technologies).

As I read the part that mentions Socrates’ concern that writing would destroy memory, I thought of how the new technologies are changing the nature of memory. If we think of these technologies as “mnemonic prosthetics,” that is, as extensions of our memories, then our memories are changing quite radically. If books were a way to distribute our memory in physical form, web 2.0 is a way to distribute our memory into other people. Pierre Levy would call it “collective intelligence.”

I am thinking of two forms of social networking software–the social bookmarking site http://del.icio.us and http://slideshare.net (which lets you share powerpoint slideshows). I have used these over the past year and have experienced the “networking” aspect. People on slideshare.net, for example, offer to have me as a contact. Del.icio.us lets you add people to your network, and if they add you to their network they become one of your “fans.” These examples show me the value of having “friends”: they become, in a way, an extension of our memory. These are complete strangers, but we share common interests, and therefore the part of their (extended, technologically-enhanced) memories that correlate to this area of common interest are of potential use to me. If del.icio.us is a way to publically remember personal websites, then networking with others on del.icio.us is a way of adding other people’s memories to your own. Who you know becomes how you know: epistemology as community.

Pierre Levy’s vision in Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace is to have communities of individuals who publically map their skills so that everybody else in the community is aware of who has what available skills. The following excerpt from an interview with Levy shows this possibility of what is perhaps to come, which the above social networking examples anticipate:

We are not talking about the kind of communication where one person sends a message to another who, in turn, may pass it on elsewhere. What we are taking about is more the kind of communication in which a member of the group transforms his own image and in doing so sends everyone a message that his images has been transformed. Simultaneously, the overall map of the group is transformed.

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Entry filed under: books, collective intelligence, Deleuze, electracy, neuroscience.

The Energonomics of the Brain The Cortical Efficiency of Alphabetic Literacy

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Remembering in Public « Scholaris Erratus  |  17 October 2007 at 11:18 pm

    […] they’re trying to remember’” (42).  This reminded me of my recent post regarding memory in the age of electracy.  In fact, I said almost the exact same thing:  If del.icio.us is a way to publically remember […]

    Reply

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