One of the shows that I was greatly looking forward to seeing this season is the anime adaptation of a manga entitled Mirai Nikki (published as Future Diary by Tokyopop). In the story, our protagonist has a habit of writing down details of his surroundings in a cell phone diary. When a god of space and time named Deus gives his diary the ability to see 90 days into the future, he begins to take advantage of his future memories as would most people. Though the premise is entirely science-fiction, it got me pondering one question: Can we consider data we input into a network true memories?
For those who haven’t been following my posts until a Surprising encounter, I wrote a few articles back in 2010 about photographs, data, memories, and reality itself. This is somewhat of a continuation from those little inquiries. I’ll try to ensure you don’t have to have read those for this topic, but it might help to know where I’m coming from.
So the first topic we need to look at is how memories/data are stored. In humans and other creatures with brains, we know that (some) memories are stored in the brain via electrical signals from neuron to neuron. As we age, our ability to send signals deteriorates both anatomically and physiologically. For machines, we use storage mediums (hard drives, discs, connections, etc) to hold on to information. These are able to be read at any time as long as we have the ability to physically access that information.
Now that we clarified that, I’m curious about something: what about the information we feed into either storage medium. We take into account our surroundings every moment even if we’re not consciously aware of doing so. Perhaps instead of creating signals in our brains, we jot it down in some file and put it to be stored. This could be a notepad, a word document, or (in our protagonist’s case) a cell phone diary. We have transferred a memory to said device and can call upon it instead of our brain to remember something. Shopping lists, notebooks, and even Facebook can be considered using an alternative storage medium than our brains to store memories.
So, with technological advances since we were first created, we now have the ability to store memories in other locations (as long as we can access them). This continues a few problems that one imagines these would solve. The easiest one to think of is “what if I lose (blank)?” Obviously that memory is no longer around and we cannot call upon it anymore. What about if that memory is altered? Someone writes something down on a notepad you were keeping and now that memory is altered. Or what about creation of fake memories? If we rely on something to keep track of our lives and it’s altered, how do we know it’s not what happened? (Conincidentally, these can all occur in the brain as well: eg. brain damage, nostalgia, and psychological tuning)
So why do we use these? It’s a matter of convenience and some betterment. If we have a picture of something, we have some measurement to remember details so we don’t have to picture everything that happened. If we write something down, we can refer to it later so we can use our brain for something more important. These are not bad things, but they begin to alter the way we approach things. I’m learning Japanese, and sometimes it’s easier for me to look up a character several times than to remember it due to online dictionaries. It can lead to some laziness by humans, but it can also lead to increased productivity. I can look up a character and continue working faster than having to try to remember if something is one thing or another.
In conclusion, using these tools aren’t a bad thing, but in some cases it may not be a good thing. We are all individual people and have differences in both mental and physiological capabilities. It’s up to us to find the most efficient way for us to be productive with these tools.