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The Twitter-isation of memory

The other night, just before I was about to go to sleep, I checked my BlackBerry and discovered an email containing really annoying news. As I then lay sleepless and annoyed in my bed, two things occurred to me:

(1)  don’t read emails from work right before you go to sleep. That is just stupid.

(2) I was framing all my reactions to this news immediately into the form of how I would express my disgust in my Facebook status and tweets in the morning.

We are constantly constructing and reconstructing memory. Ernst Schachtel in his article On Memory and Childhood Amnesia discusses two aspects of memory and its construction. The first is the idea that we frame memory according to social expectations – one’s wedding/birth of a child is always remembered as “the happiest day of my life”. not because it was, but because that is what we are socialised to expect and remember. Secondly he discusses the manner in which we frame individual remembrances so much that sometimes, even as we experience things, we are structuring are recall of them. Think for example of how when something is happening you are thinking about how you will tell your friends about this. As we remember, we narrativise, condense, cast ourselves as the hero/victim, create a coherent construction of memory which is what we present to others. In retelling and re-presenting our own past, we reinforce in our own mind that particular construction of memory. Thus our memories become completely mediated, framed in the most comfortable structure for retelling, influenced by our own embellishments and solidified.

So what happens to that construction of memory when are recall is mediated through 140 characters, or a status update that can be read by everyone from our mother to our work colleagues? Not only do tweets and status updates involve our own representation of experience, but they are also likely to be retold to others and returned to ourselves. They are a written representation which can be easily circulated of our (mediated) memory.

While I would hope that people re-present their own experiences in enough other ways to ensure that our recall of an event can be longer than 140 characters, it does pose some interesting possibilities. Will be retell stories to our children with hashtags? Will we learn to symbolise “like” and “unlike” for each memory? On Twitter the other day, a shiny new coin suggested that we needed to invent an air quote symbol for hashtag – perhaps it could be the first of many that structures interaction both inside and outside our internet existence. And if the American Constitution can be put on Twitter, why not our entire memoires?

My life, brought to you one status update at a time.


4 responses to “The Twitter-isation of memory

  1. don’t know about anyone else, but I find myself thinking in ‘tweets’ now. I don’t actually tweet them all unless I am next to a computer, but it is a bit of a worry…

    • godardsletterboxes ⋅

      I do it all the time – in tweets and status updates and ditto – there are many that have never been written anywhere, but I have still used them to frame my experiennces.

  2. I wondered if parsimony initiates a new kind (but only one kind) of creative elegance? Some brain researchers have been contemplating how long before bed time one should receive a phone call. I imagine the same is true for text. I think one of the strengths of Twitter and Facebook is that they are asynchronous too.

    Thanks for the post!


    • godardsletterboxes ⋅

      I must admit there is an art to the 140 character expression. I wonder how many people do writer and rewrite their tweets to make them exactly right. Similarly, I wonder if, over time, like some politicians who are unable to talk in anything but sound bites, avid tweeters might find themselves unable to express themselves in anything more that a series of tweets!

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