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.


7 thoughts on “Memory as a Social Construct

  1. “We are social thinkers, and we are also social rememberers” …this part of the answer really resonated with me. I mean it just makes sense, most of the information that we receive is dependent of secondary sources. And thank you for your concluding paragraph, our social interaction are ever changing and it makes sense that we develop and change with it and hold on to the memories that we do make while doing so.


  2. I thought I knew where this was headed from the title (memory as social construct), but this twist is pretty important, and interesting — is a memory still a memory if it’s constructed artificially? Ouch. And I’ll give “Black Mirror” another chance — the first episode I watched creeped me out big time.


  3. The robot ended up in the loft because the memorabilia go there to be visited in special occasions. We got a life to live. “Memory as a social construct?” As in variable that contains social information? Some terminology used lately is to “offload” information to our technology: phones; post-it; what have you. Then we reload our mind when we need it. Simple; as long as the technology works. I recall that there is *this* awesome place in a city, as opposed I remember how to go there without a gps-enabled device giving me directions. Also our memory is creative; that’s why we should offload to our more reliable memory. Now if that memory talks with big corporations more than it talks with us; it is another story…


  4. That is pretty crazy in both a good way and a bad way. Obviously it’s great to have a more efficient way to store memories that we can look back on, but it makes you wonder the impact that technologies like this one are having on our ability to cope with loss.


  5. What a weird episode of Black Mirror. I can definitely see why you thought of it. Its basic message is that computers/any type of artificial intelligence cannot substitute for human minds. It might come close, but isn’t the same


  6. I think you’re making some cool connections (love Black Mirror). The social environment should include the online world that we export memories to. I remember one of our readings this semester that made the analogy between analog networks, like libraries, and digital networks. It seems like we have to recognize books as a technology of memory that allows pieces of persons to live on within analog knowledge networks. Why shouldn’t we see the Internet the same way?


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