society in amnesia

We use archives as a method of remembering. We record and keep a track on information that range from stem cell research findings to the most mundane of shopping lists. We want to preserve it before it is set loose into the internal brain chaos. But on the contrary, it’s also an excuse to forget. Once words/images are exposed and captured by our senses (either in a photo, or a text, or a recording), the mind no longer needs to retain that information at its fullest – presuming that the detailed information could always be recalled/retrieved. This very notion was already apparent at the wake of scripture writing. In Plato’s Phaedrus, the first critique of writing, the voice of Socrates argues that the invention of letters will “produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory” –it is “an elixir not of memory, but of reminding … the appearance of wisdom, not the true wisdom.” If it does not capture real true knowledge, why do we hold so dearly to the things we keep and collect?

Recently, as presented by Mary Lou Jensen on TED, there is technology that can scan images from our brains. A huge breakthrough! The process of archiving our discoveries, our encounters, has dissolved, leaving it to technology to record them for us. This innovation continue to improve and exceed human translation accuracy. But is accuracy something we aim for? Will it lead to a society in amnesia, just as Plato had predicted? 

Papyrus of Plato Phaedrus, 370 BC


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