Memories are made of this…

It’s a little early to tell, being only a few weeks into the year, but there seems to be a recurrent theme about memory developing.

2003 was a decidedly disconnected and disorganised year for me: geopolitical events, and personal events, left me rather incoherent and off kilter. As if the cause and effect links had been cut somewhere and that any action was an exercise in futility, yet I could not not act. At New Year’s, the memory theme first snuck in when I recognised but couldn’t remember someone at the Cavern. Since then, I’ve been reading blog entries such as A’s new project to release packets of personal memory into the wild, Jon over on rogue semiotics listing five things he’s forgotten, Heidi on me, my life + infrastructure raising her grandmother’s Alzhemiers, pixeldiva has been asking am I still me? and so on…

I’m going to run with an analogy here. Print articles are keen to parallel bloggers with diarists, and there seems to be a bit of fad for dramatisations of diaries (Pepys and now Alan Clark), but what connects all these is that they are acts of consciously creating memories. If you look at how organic memory may work, current theory is that the information is stored in cells and a neurological net is formed, connecting triggers to these cells of knowledge. Our brains map our memories, connecting the word “jam” with memories of the taste of it, the smell of it, the memory definition of it. The borther of a friend was in a bike crash a few years back and suffered brain damage. When he was recovered he would be perfectly fine, except that if he asked you to pass the salt, he would ask “could you pass the trousers?” because his memory map had become corrupt. He thought he was retrieving the word ‘salt’ but the link now pointed to the word ‘trousers’. Missing memories are things we’ve lost the links to.

It’s pretty obvious that blogging is the same process of knowledge mapping but at a conscious level. Instead of a trigger in the brain connecting within the same system, it connects externally, to others’ memory maps. Over the last few years we’ve been increasingly subject to the manipulation of history, of being told that whatever we were thinking, we weren’t seeing things correctly. Just look at the Hutton report, look at the entire issue of the invasion of Iraq, and the determination of Blair to be judged by history (as if history were an objective thing capable of making moral and/or legal judgement rather than a cultural construction*). It seems quite likely that we are all becoming more aware of how fragile our organic memories are, resulting in a new interest in the whole business of memory and perception.

*one invideous side-effect of this business of using the phrase “history will judge us” is to suggest that any opinion on events should be deferred until some unspecified future date when there will be an authoritative judgement of right/wrong. This discourages people from forming current opinions or taking action, instead encouraging a “wait and see” mentality. Switch the word ‘history’ for the word ‘God’ and the whole phrase reveals its manipulative subtext.

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