Poetics of Prayer

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The Media Shaped Memory

In his recent newsletter, Michael Sacasas re-articulated Marshall McCluhan's argument that new technology/media reconfigure society. Reconfiguration takes place, not by an ex nihilo big bang, but by rearranging the pre-existent material. New media rearranges "the public" culture (Kierkegaard). Sacasas gives the example inviting us to:

consider the effect of digital media on memory. If collective memory is a crucial element of a cohesive, well-functioning society, if, as Ivan Illich has observed, what we call different cultures are merely the manifestations of different means of remembering—then what are the consequences of the radical re-ordering of how we remember occasioned by digital media?

Cultures, as shared-memory communities (Ivan Illich), might be radically disrupted by this media re-arrangement of shared memory. Cultures are shaped by memory and memory is the story of the past. In other words, Media has the power to reshape the stories we tell about our past.

Some examples of media and what they've reshaped:

  • Cable news, entrenched two-party system
  • Social media, fundamentalist religious and ideological terrorism.
  • The digital scroll-feed, what an individual sees as most important (no temporal bandwidth).

A follow up:

Another instance of media shaping memory came to mind, when I watched the documentary "13th." The film begins with an extended discussion of the film "Birth of A Nation" and it's shaping of the race imagination in the US. Towards the end of the documentary, after a lengthy and sad discussion of disproportional incarceration, the interviews return to a discussion of how media shapes the telling and remembering of black history.

Remember, "The Danger of A Single Story?"