An article, by Sophie McBain, in the New Statesman looks at how we have come to rely on electronic devices, in particular, to keep a record of our important events and dates. And, although much has been written on the many advantages of such accurate record-keeping, it can have a downside, notably to our self-identity and views of ourselves as an individual.
Such views of self-identity are not necessarily static, but change in accordance to events that take place in our lives—those seminal events— and the importance one places on them. In “Head in the cloud” (February 23, 2016), McBain writes on memory and our perceptions of ourselves, which I found both relevant and personal:
Memory is closely linked to self-identity, but it is a poor personal record. Remembering is a creative act. It is closely linked to imagining. When people suffer from dementia they are often robbed not only of the past but also of the future; without memory it is hard to construct an idea of future events. We often mistakenly convert our imaginings into memories – scientists call the process “imagination inflation”. This puts biological memories at odds with digital ones. While memories stored online can be retrieved intact, our internal memories are constantly changing and evolving. Each time we relive a memory, we reconfigure it to suit our present needs and world-view. In his book Pieces of Light, an exploration of the new science of memory, the neuroscientist Charles Fernyhough compares the construction of memory to storytelling. To impose meaning on to our chaotic, complex lives we need to know which sections to abridge and which details can be ignored. “We are all natural born storytellers. We are constantly editing and remaking our memory stories as our knowledge and emotions change. They may be fictions, but they are our fictions,” Fernyhough writes.True enough. It has been said that no one could live with the complete “truth” about himself; that an version, edited over the years with changing circumstances, is necessary and mentally healthy. People have private views and private worlds where secrets reside. Total recall can be a curse, as can living in a society that talks constantly about the primacy of “truth” (e.g., totalitarian societies), and where privacy is deemed as suspicious and wrong. That forgetfulness in some details is both good and necessary, as is forgiveness and mercy.
That being said, the idea of a large electronic or digital database of someone’s life might feel right for some people, but it leaves a lot to be desired over-all. At least. I think so. I suspect that in future editions of the DSM, there will be a few mental disorders related to the use of electronic devices. Technological progress often results in an increase in new diseases, including those related to the mind. It might be that the mind takes longer to adapt than the body, and that too many changes over a short time can have a debilitating effect. We shall see if this is, indeed, true.
I still rely on pen (and often pencil) and paper to keep track of appointments in my paper agenda; and I still write my thoughts in a leather-bound journal, a practice that I have maintained for almost 25 years. There are a few of us old “dinosaurs” left, as this article suggests. In all fairness, I have tried electronic versions, albeit briefly, but they are lacking (as is the Kindle on my shelf).
Whether this view is based on creativity (“the art of handwriting“) or aesthetics (“plastic is not beautiful”), I am not sure, but it is based on what feels right and what I find to my liking. The paper suits me. It is not so much that I have resisted the urge of “progressing” to electronic devices or what are referred to as digital diaries, but, truth be told, that I have never had such urges in the first place.
Can you resist something that has never held an attraction for you?
For more, go to [NewStatesman]