A while ago, I watched an episode of Black Mirror (S1 E3 – The Entire History of You) and it was about inserting a tiny device into the base of your skull, allowing you to revisit and replay your memories. You could even bring the memories up on a screen for other people to watch. During a replayed memory, you could even zoom in on people on the other side of the room who would have barely entered your consciousness at the time. So in one scene the protagonist, Liam, applied a lip-reading ‘app’ to his memory to find out what two people were talking about.
If it isn’t already clear, Black Mirror is kind of sci-fi, but most of the themes in each show (which are completely separate from each other) are things that could happen soon, if not today. And again, if the title of the show hasn’t clicked, it’s about holding a mirror up to society, to show us what we’ve done, what we’re like, and what’s likely to come, especially if we continue to push the boundaries of technology & reality.
Sounds cool huh? At first, I thought of all the wondrous things this piece of technology could do. For a start, written University exams would quickly become obsolete and for that reason alone, I’d pay a hefty price to have this tiny bulb of technology inserted into my skull. However, it quickly became apparent during this episode that despite the initial appeal of the technology, the ability to so closely analyse memories had its downfalls.
Arguments can be ended quicker than they begin, but it also meant people couldn’t let things go. There was a constant need to continually go back in time to rehash every minor detail that didn’t need to be rehashed. Although to be fair to Liam (and this may be a spoiler if you watch the show), he did have a point.
Obviously there’s a whole separate (and great) argument to use a device like this for medical purposes, such as for people with Alzheimer’s/dementia etc., however the show doesn’t focus on the medical angle, and neither will I.
Moving away from the television show, I quite like how our memories work, albeit fragmented and often distorted. If something irrelevant happens in your life, our brain is designed to push it deeper into the mind, amid the cobwebs, where it will likely disappear eventually. When we recall a memory, we refresh its strength and it hangs around longer. If we keep recalling a particular memory, then it likely won’t leave us anytime soon.
So why do I love having a less-than-perfect memory?
Because there’s something quirky about knowing I have hundreds of thousands (and more) of memories and bits of information stored in my brain, and that I can recall that information when I least expect it, and when I didn’t even realise it was stored away at all. It’s another amazing aspect of how our brain functions, and the sheer thought of how memory works is quite incredible.
Technology is moving at light speed, and while it forever creates a different world in front of our eyes, it is nice to occasionally stop and appreciate the mechanics of what we were born with, before it becomes a thing of the past.
What do you think of memory? Medical purposes aside, how would you react to something like this if you found out it was available?