Memory, Experience, and Privilege

Here’s what was important this week

I wrote a really long link round-up piece about how technology and our memory interact in potentially damaging ways. And then I realized it was a blog post. So you can read that here:Transactive Memory and the Machines.

It’s something I find endlessly fascinating, and will be interesting to see how it progresses as technology becomes ingrained in even more aspects of our day to day life and becomes more visible (or not).

Technology is also changing many analog experiences into more digital ones. As photographer Craig Mod explores the future death of the standalone camera for the New Yorker, and reflects on perspective lost:

“As anyone working in a creative field knows, the perspective gained by spending time away from work is invaluable. Before digital (and outside of Polaroids), photography was filled with such forced perspective. No matter how quickly you worked, it was common for hours—if not days, weeks, or longer—to pass between seeing the image through the viewfinder and reviewing it in the darkroom. Digital technology scrunches these slow, drawn-out processes together.”

(If you want to see some truly analog photos, negatives were discovered clumped together from Ernest Schackleton’s Antarctic voyage. Unbelievably, they’ve been restored and printed.)

Examining the differences between reading books and e-readers is an ongoing one (I have no experience with e-readers, so I can’t offer a qualified opinion on this one, though I lean analog), and Scientific American examines how readers interact with books versus onscreen text, and how that affects processing.

One audiophile got so caught up in the race for the best quality sound in an era of technological enhancements and distinctions between the different methods of playing back music, that “he realized he was listening to his equipment rather than music”

Technology such as Google Glass also brings up important considerations (such as fear of the ubiquity of cameras). Economist Tyler Cowen had the chance to use it as a Google Glass Explorer, but found it somewhat unintuitive…

When using Glass, I feel I first have had to grab an iPad, shrink it a good amount so I can no longer easily view it, tape it to my upper right forehead, and start tapping on it and sliding it instead of using the keyboard.

Mat Honan of Wired also has been exploring Google Glass, and called to point the fact that “Glass is a class divide on your face.” The class divide in today’s society is eloquently brought to light by artist Molly Crabapple, who recently flew first class on someone else’s dime, and remarked that, “Until you see it, you never realize how separate the sphere of the rich is from that of everyone else.”

The class divide and inequality of modern (American) society extends to the harms of the war on drugs. “There’s no such thing as cruelty-free cocaine.” A long form investigation by the New Yorker explores this cruelty even further, with Reagan’s former Secretary of State commenting that “The violence was here. Now we have outsourced the violence, in effect, to Mexico and Guatemala and Honduras.”

Google Glass and first class reveal inequality, cocaine reveals unsettling violence, and the grammar police reveal literacy privilege. When I first came across this concept, I found it hard to agree with. Coming from a past where academics were my identity (to a large part, I still identify most strongly with my intelligence), I was nicknamed the Human Dictionary in elementary school because I knew how to spell almost anything. And I’ve policed more grammar than I can count, ruthlessly editing papers of my peers. I’d been unwittingly taking my talent out on peers without considering what I had that they didn’t. In fact, “the idea that there is only one right way of doing English – and everyone else is doing it wrong – is inherently flawed. And by “flawed” I mean [illogical](broken link removed), [elitist](broken link removed) and even [oppressive](broken link removed). “ (latter links original to poster). This literacy privilege extends further, with a former prisoner reflecting on where literacy privilege has brought her:

“People think I’m educated because I talk and write well, but the fact is I never finished high school. I’ve read a lot, is all. The fact that educated white women automatically assume that we have similar backgrounds annoys me. We don’t. I feel like I’m in a certain kind of drag.”

The Atlantic takes to task the people that nitpick language usage, without calling out literacy privilege, pointing out that “we tend to believe, incorrectly, that dictionaries dictate language usage rather than reflect it”.