Mnemotechnology and the consumption of human beings

Memory has always been an industrial activity, or at least has always been fated towards it. The needs for both organisation and recollection are mere fuel for the fire of technological combustion.  Humans naturally tend towards exteriorizing memory, a technique that derives from the late Paleolithic period where mnemotechniques make an appearance in the form of ideogrammatic writing, which further develops into the better-known alphabet. Bernard Stiegler invites us to consider mnemotechnology as constitutive of the conglomeration of technology and power. Similar to Foucault’s ‘technologies of power’, we must begin to think of technology in terms of knowledge economies. These knowledge economies seek to take advantage of such mnemotechnologies as exteriorization of memory in order to advance their control over them; to organize them in a way that is constitutive of their frameworks and not of our minds.

Stiegler wants to emphasise how the exteriorization of memories inevitably “[engenders] a loss of knowledge”.  Plato developed the notion of hypomnesis, which denotes our tendency to exteriorize and thus give up our knowledge to the technology that allowed for the exteriorization. In Plato’s Phaedrus, he demonstrates how the technological innovation of writing sought only to imitate and reproduce oral speech or cognitive memory. Mnemotechniques taint memory by means of hypomnesis.

The result of this is a form of behavioral submission of the human being to mnemotechniques. Sitegler adopts a kind of behaviorist approach, a psychological field that explores the behavior of individuals as a result of their given context. Stiegler notes that the industrial society imposes a behavioural effect on human beings, who have taken on the role of consumers; “the commodity has become the main operator of the socialisation of individuals”.

Stiegler’s perspective is a radical one; one that delegates our devotion to consuming the products of the industrial society in exchange for our memories and our knowledge. But I would like to propose perhaps a more radical position. Perhaps it has become so, that we are not merely consumers, but are being consumed by mnemotechnologies. Perhaps we have become commodities on which mnemotechnologies feed in order to acquire the data that keeps them running. It is a radical standpoint, but one that endorses both Stiegler and Plato’s views in today’s context. 

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