Memory as a Social Construct


You talk a lot about memory in your book. Are we augmenting our memories with computers, or are we replacing them?


I would say we are augmenting them. When I started the book I was genuinely worried that I was losing my memory to Google, but the more I studied the way that everyday memory works, the more I realized how much we already rely on other outside sources — books, Post-it notes, etc. — but also other people to remember things. We are social thinkers, and we are also social rememberers, we use our co-workers, our partners and our friends to help us retrieve the details about things that they they are better at remembering than we are. And they’ve used us in the same way. Memory has always been social. Now we’re using search engines and computers to augment our memories, too.

The above piece is from an interview with Clive Thompson about his book and how he believes that Google is not dulling our ability to memorize things, and I agree…kind of. He goes onto talk about how social media is used as a tool in establishing connections and creating ambient awareness. While reading just the interview, as well as the other pieces from this week, it honestly started to remind me of the Black Mirror episode, “Be Right Back.”

In the episode a young woman loses her husband unexpectedly and shortly thereafter discovers she is pregnant.  While at the funeral, a friend of her’s suggests she try this thing where she can “talk” to “her husband” via a computer program (I think?) that takes all the information he ever shared online and creates his personality from it. I won’t tell you what happens after that, but basically it’s not the same person.

The internet gives us an outlet where we can share and post virtually anything we want. Thompson argues that though most of these are insignificant, they add up over a period of time to help develop memories of people. It has allowed us the opportunity to connect with people who otherwise would’ve been out of our lives months and maybe even years ago. We create these memories or personas of people in our minds based solely off of the content they post online. I won’t go into detail about the “highlight reel” theory but know that it exists and that it does happen.

With being the social creatures we are and the ever developing forms of social interaction that are popping up at an alarming rate, I believe it’s only fair to say that our memories will be shaped more and more by our use of technology. It is up to the user to decide how and when it happens. All I ask is that you continue to have an emotional connection to those memories regardless of the platform that you’re saving them on.