van Dijck’s Mediated Memories

Jose van Dijck
Mediated Memories in the Digital Age
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies

In her new book, Mediated Memories in the Digital Age, Jose van Dijck defines “personal cultural memory as the acts and products of remembering in which individuals engage to make sense of their lives in relation to the lives of others and to their surroundings, situating themselves in time and place” (6).  Van Dijck argues that memories are never stable over time, and how we choose to remember them and the technologies that we use to recall such memories are actually the concerns. She states, “As our technologies for writing change, so do our ways of creating self-reflective records; memory, in other words, is always implicated in the act and technology of writing” (63).  In chapter three, van Dijck shows how some Alzheimer patients are utilizing blogs and lifelogs to record their deteriorating memories.  These technologies are not necessarily for the patients themselves, but are used as supportive mechanisms for families and for others experiencing memory loss.  Because the main use of the Alzheimer patients’ blogs and lifelogs are for others to remember someone as they were is an important distinction.  For example, if a family member decides to visit one of these blogs, what they are reading is a preserved version of the same person that they have known, the person before the memory loss becomes extreme.  By returning to these sites, family members are hoping to find that the saved memories are suspending the person they knew before the disease became crippling. The Alzheimer patient is actively suspending herself to be remembered later in a specifically unchanged way.   Thus, EMDs, such as Alzheimer blogs, allow visitors to see a person as though the disease is not occurring.
As van Dijck maintains, “Blogging itself becomes a real-life experience, a construction of self that is mediated by tools for reflection and communication. In the life of bloggers, the medium is not the message but the medium is the experience” (van Dijck 75).  If the medium is now the experience, and if Alzheimer bloggers are knowingly placing their memories and experiences on sites so that they are not tainted by disease, then suspension is clearly the issue here.  Although van Dijck argues that memories are never stable, Alzheimer blogs are functioning in the exact opposite way by storing memories so that they become stabilized.  Also, the shared experience between the blogger and the blog reader further compliments the notion of collective digitized memory.  Because blogs and lifelogs are specifically public domains, the reader and Alzheimer blogger alike can remember events together by reading the same posts.  This specific type of collective memory suggests that the Alzheimer blogger will experience her own memory as though it is not actually hers.  As the disease progresses, the Alzheimer blogger can read his own posts and experience a part of himself that is essentially disease free.  Moreover, while the disease actively deteriorates the mind, the Alzheimer blogger is actively posting to suspend his memories in order that he, his family, and others who may be experiencing similar deterioration can return to these memories knowing they will be constant and unchanged. Just as one uploads personal files to a flash drive for later use, the Alzheimer blogger is posting to save parts of himself, relying upon its stability.
Critical moments in the text
3: Biographical memory has three main functions: to preserve a sense of being a coherent person over time, to strengthen social bonds by sharing personal memories, and to use past experience to construct models to understand inner worlds of self and others.”
5: “Memory work thus involves a complex set of recursive activities that shape our inner worlds, reconciling past and present, allowing us to make sense of the world around us, and constructing an idea of continuity between self and others.”
6: “Personal cultural memory as the acts and products of remembering in which individuals engage to make sense of their lives in relation to the lives of others and to their surroundings, situating themselves in time and place.”
10: “In a sociological sense, ‘collective memory’ means that people must felt hey were somehow part of a communal past, experiencing a connection between what happened in general and how they were involved as individuals.”
15: “Over the years, both negative and positive appreciations of media and memory’s alliance reveal such binary thinking.  From the days of Plato, who viewed the invention of writing and script as a degeneration of pure memory (meaning: untainted by technology), every new means of outsourcing our physical capacity to remember has generated resentment.”
16: “AS an artificial prosthesis, they can free the brain of unnecessary burdens and allow more space for creative activity; as a replacement, they can corrupt memory.”
24: “In any case, mediated memories never remain the same in the course of time but are constantly prone to the vagaries of time and changing relations between self and others.”
34: “Memory can be creative in reconstructing the past, just as imagination can be reconstructive in memorizing the present—think only of the many visual tricks people play to perform the cognitive task of factual recall.  The function of personal memory, even if restricted to studying its ‘mindware,’ is not simply about re-creating an accurate picture of one’s past, but it is about creating a mental map of one’s past through the lens of the present.”
41-2: “Memory is not exclusively located inside the brain, and hence limited to the interior body, and it cannot be ‘disembodied,’ because external bodies and technologies are part of the same mutual affect.”
45: “If is an illusion to think that memory could be severed from the body, because biology and technology—body and media—have merged beyond distinction.”
50: “Memory, as a result, may become less a process of recalling than a topological skill, the ability to locate and identify pieces of culture that identify the place of self in relation to others.”
56: “The affective constitution of personal memories is well recognized by psychologists: when people read or hear reminiscences narrated by others, they often feel triggered or invited to contribute their own memories.”
67: “Just as paper diaries reflect someone’s age, taste, and preference at a particular moment in one’s life, the software and signature of blogs seem to accommodate the needs of especially contemporary teens and young adults to express and sort out their identity in an increasingly wired, mediated world.”
149: “Since early modernity, people have tried to imagine and invent memory machines that could remedy two basic shortcomings of the human brain: its inability to systematically record and store every single experience in our lives, as well as the brain’s incapacity to retrieve these experiences unchanged at any later moment in time.”
150: “Digital storage-retrieval facilities, such as search engines, are not merely new metaphors that mold our concepts of memory; they actually define the performative nature of memory.”
152: “Documents of recordings can be stored in a database, and we want them to be there, unchanged, as we retrieve them and subject them to (re)interpretation; memories are never unchanging data that can be stored and retrieved in original shape.  As German media theorist Hartmut Winkler puts it: ‘Material storage devices are supposed to preserve their contents faithfully. Human memories, on the other hand, tend to select, reconfigure, and forget their contents—and we know from theory that this is the real achievement of human memory.  Forgetting, in that sense, is not a defect, but an absolute necessary form of protection.’”
179: “If morphibility and connectivity are becoming the default mode of mediated memories in the digital age, we need to adjust our research questions accordingly. […] But with the implementation of digital media tools in the everyday construction of memory, our very concept of how memory functions is technically and metaphorically grounded in different parameters.  Does this mean we should now define autobiographical memory by its ‘track changes’ mode in addition to its ‘save file’ mode?”
180: “Memories are never a simple inheritance from the past: people make media to shape memories, and memories shape people to make media.”


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