Monthly Archives: March 2011

Hypomnesis, Anamnesis, photos and perfume

Recently whilst on holidays overseas, I lost my camera. The day before this, I lost $600. The latter event was met basically with a ‘diddums’ – well something slightly more emphatic than ‘diddums’ but with no particular passion or trauma. The former event however was met with pain and anguish. I threw the contents of my bag about the room, I sweated, I yelled. It wasn’t a pretty sight. The physical object of the camera wasn’t important to me, it was the build up of weeks of beautiful memories that I couldn’t bear to lose. It was almost as if, knowing I had the camera there to do the work for me, I let my capacity for memory down a little.

This exterialisation of memory is referred to by Bernard Stiegler in his text Anamnesis and Hypomnesis. The camera, the external object is the hypotechnic, an object separate from our mind which yet does the same role as our mind. This hypomnesis, the extension of memory, is in contrast to anamnesis, the so-called ‘natural memory’. The ability of memory to be extended beyond the mind and also the potential danger of this, has been considered since Plato. As Stiegler states, Plato claimed that writing was a form of hypomnesis and as such was false knowledge. The question of what constitutes false knowledge and false memory and their ‘natural’ counterparts is fascinating and particularly relevant in a society where media and technology continue to provide more external apparatuses. Am I losing something in delegating my memory to a camera?

A similar thing occurred a few weeks later when I met up with my sister after having travelled alone for a month. Whilst travelling alone is an incredible experience I would suggest to anyone, any time, the one downside is when you get home there is no-one to reminisce with, no one to recall with you particular obscure events. So, when I met up with my sister I once again let my memory relax. I had found another form of hypomnesis, however this time it was not my camera but my sister’s brain.

I don’t believe I am losing any particular natural memory or ability through this exterialisation but instead assisting processes of recollection which occur if not naturally then internally. An example of the way in which hypomnetic and anamnetic memory are always working and combining is evidenced when I now smell a particular smell or hear particular songs. Here we have the external trigger of memory (hypomnesis), but the sensual, involuntary reaction (anamnesis) –  which occurs and produces a memory far more vivid than voluntarily recollected memories.

In fact, I have now banned myself from wearing a certain perfume because I want it to hold the memories of my trip and not be tainted by any subsequent experiences. Sad because I truly love the smell of Euphoria but the power of that perfume to bring back not just vague visual pictures but sensations and feelings and sounds and smells is too valuable. Having the past in a bottle, especially a bottle that smells as good as Euphoria is one of the greatest gifts I can imagine.

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Labelling Media Theories

The question of the extent to which technology (media specifically) alters society and influences individuals’ actions is fascinating to me. This question was predominant throughout the readings and it seems, throughout media studies in general.

Technological determinism holds that technology is the sole agent for change in society. It is a popular view in media studies and in the wider society, as demonstrated in the categorising of various periods by their dominant technology (steam age, the age of electricity, the information age etc)

It is undoubtable that certain new technologies do significantly alter society. The main issue with technological determinism is that it removes technologies from their social context, treating specific technologies as if they ‘came into existence of their own accord’ (Murphie and Potts).

Cultural materialism, the name given by Murphie and Potts in their text Culture and Technology, is the perspective held by those theorists on the other end of the spectrum to technological determinists, those who seek to always situate technologies in their contexts. Key in this collective of theorists is Ray Williams who emphasises ‘social need and political intention as significant factors involved in technological development.’ Determinists simply leave these factors out.

It is easy to state that technology changes society because in this case we are usually only considering the technological inventions that exist and proliferate today. There are many, many examples of various technologies and media which simply did not catch on and hence faded from the public memory. These inventions did not survive because they didn’t suit or were not necessary for their particular social conditions. Thus, it is not simply technology influencing society but also social conditions influencing and changing technology.

Some media unquestionably and radically alter society. I found Paul Levinsen’s discussion of the phonetic alphabet and the subsequent rise of monotheism particularly interesting. The ability of these meaningless letters to represent abstract thought was clearly a huge advantage to the Hebrews in communicating the idea of monotheism. Also fascinating was the resistance that this new written mode faced, by Socrates and Plato amongst others. This resistance mirrors the current opposition that various digital technologies face today and situates our current media situation within a long line of invention, resistance and acceptance.