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Politics of erasure

From damnatio memoriae


to alluring void

Rafa Ilnicki
Adam Mickiewicz University, Pozna

Digital Lethe of transhumanism: weak mind uploading as


erasure of individual and collective memory

In contemporary world the amount of data is growing extensively, yet it cannot be interpreted separately from human organisms. The purpose of this
article is to demonstrate how a large number of
present-day practices including real-time backup of
memory, living in digital clouds, and alifelog done
by storing memories-like information are all erasing the notions of an existing individual as well as
collective memory.
Prominent critics of modern culture such as
Jean-Franois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, and Bernard Stiegler posited that information stored in
a digital format is not only an external database
but also an internal memory of a human. Their
philosophical assumptions are continued in an affirmative fashion nowadays, lacking acritical perspective similar to the antique search for aproper
medium to store our cultural memory. Hopefully,
the following article extends beyond the scope of
that classical dispute and provides a coherent explanation for the means in which contemporary
media practices are training people to erase their
memory. In other words, this text embarks on
aroad to find ways media are conditioning human
beings to replace their memories gathered in the
material world with digital memories programmed
by technical media, erasing existing memories in
the process.

We would therefore like to propose so-called


weak version of mind uploading concerning the
process of uploading the human memory. Owing
to the Teilhard de Chardins metaphor of the omega point we can expound that the replacement of
memory is correlated with ashift from ahumanistic view on memory to atranshumanistic concept of
memory. The important paradox which should not
be omitted is the ability of people to recall the objects, people and feelings they have not experienced,
meaning memories not created through apresence
in agiven situation but by acquiring memory from
digital databases. Therefore, we shall state that the
omega point to which these tendencies are emerging is mind uploading apractice of programming
the whole human mind into amachine thereby allowing for existance as pure data, without the burden of abody. Obviously, in the recent state of techno-scientifict development, there is no evidence for
the possibilty of asimilar practice, nevertheless, it
functions not as amere technoutopian fantasy, but
agoal for the people to aspire to.
The next aspect to consider touches upon the
fact that the memory in a digital format is not
a property of an individual organism or even the
whole multigenerational culture but is stored as external data. As aconsequence people are freed from
their obligations to acquire memory, as it is always

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Rafa Ilnicki

present in adigital format and may be programmed


into either individual or collective memory.
Let us examine this issue from two slightly opposing perspectives. Firstly, humanism always proposed a finite model of a human who is subordinated to cultural practices it is more focused on
the past, acrucial determinant in the future of the
human development. Transhumanism on the other
hand, is directed toward the future by discarding
essential understanding of human and shifting
towards an infinite technological development of
our race. So for the humanism it is indispensable to
realize the model of being (be it educational, religious, scientific or other) with regard to the past by
seeking continuity between amodel and its modification. The aforementioned model of being acitizen, ahusband, aprophet etc. is symbolic people
gather their memories from their environment and
subsequently create them in the ecology of their
presence. In the transhumanistic perspective, the
memory can no longer be limited by current territory but must be freed from the constraints of
symbolic cultures. Furthermore, the future ceases
to be directed by symbols and is directed by technology instead.
We shall refer to the change discussed above as
the weak form of mind uploading. Alas, it is not
weak in its erasure function, but in the scale of
mind uploading. We are not yet able to achieve the
strong form of mind uploading, the one described
by transhumanistic visioneries. In the modern era,
due to popular interfaces that offer people unlimited territorial possibilities of acquiring memory,
they do not remember basic facts from their lives.
The interfaces from hardware gadgets to software
social media platforms allow for technological
creation and mediation. Even the symbolic memory is mediated by technological devices. Moreover,
such interfaces enable searching the global databases in real time, without any delay or necessity
for in-depth reading. This type of connection to
individual and collective memory was never before
available to culture in its symbolic and material development.
All in all, the most paramount factor here is the
speed. We must remember that literature and other
symbolic media were "slow media" what they presented was alinear order of events which did not
extend the imagination of areader of culture who in
turn acquired memories stored in symbolic artifacts
and then compared them to his own memory. Writ-

ing as such was even the main concern of Plato, yet


it was avery slow way to inhibit memory every
memorial trace must be written and then acquired
by reading. The mere storage of digital memories
enables effects that were never present to symbolic
cultures, namely tagging, searching, instant sharing
and more. For this reason, the discussed cultural
change falls into the scope of transhumanism.
Contemporary practices of people being constantly logged into virtual spheres of technical media forc them to erase the premises and fundaments
of their memory. Although living in their bodies,
people have memories which were not created by
the senses or the speed of their bodies. No memory
exists which was not digitalized. Being on social
media sites, twitting, blogging, posting photos and
files, storing every experience in some kind of adigital format is making memory public and accessible
for any human being. Protected as it may seem, this
memory can leak or, worse still, be deleted. Human
existence is thus shaped by erasure of individual and
collective memory by interfaces as well as functioning in parallel digital memory worlds. This is the
transhumanistic condition of our memory.
Human memory is constantly being extended
beyond its natural capacity to store information.
The speed of growth of these practices is not asymbolic one, but atechnological one. Firstly, we observe the shift from an analog (symbolic) form to
adigital (technical) format. Secondly, we can perceive how the memory is shared collectively and
edited in real time. The main consequence of these
changes is that any member of culture must free
his memory up", that is, erase his memory, albeit
the collective memory appears intact. That digital
stream of forgetting an analogy to river Lethe is
not some abstract, mythological tale anymore, it is
aset of interfaces which constantly are erasing and
delivering new memories.
The transhumanisms order of digital Lethe
created by electronic tools for personal and collective memory erasure, so that everyone could acquire new, external memories, leads to abolition of
any stable memory, in turn extending operational
memory acquired from digital databases. Gilbert
Simondon writes that this technological mediation
of memory threatens symbolic order, the order of
individuation. To briefly reiterate the meaning: individuation is aprocess in which an individual gains
uniqueness which is the basis of his identity and
cultural reference to other subjects later on. When

Digital Lethe of transhumanism: weak mind uploading as erasure of individual...

destroyed by technological mediation of memory


it becomes disindividuation, as stated by Bernard
Stiegler. However, the symbolic order is neither
destroyed nor being put on hiatus, it is rather technologically structured by interfaces of popular use
(social media, communication media) that enforce
disindividuation. Simultaneously, they enforce
anew way of erasing existing memories, so that we
end in an endless loop of rhytmical shifts from individuation to disindividuation and vice versa.
Biometric passports, implants, nanomedicine
technological modification and extension of human perception are implementing new forms
of memory as well. This brings about pragmatic
consequences for the current developments of biotechnology, nanotechnology and robotics. They
all create both biological and material memories.
A human is not being changed merely by the digital memories in popular interfaces, but by material
extensions of body as well. The human race is being
increasingly and diversely dependent on technology and its development. We can also observe how
on both individual and global scale the policy of
erasure is being replaced by technologies of erasure.
Let us shift our focus to consequences of replacing cultural mechanism of forgetting with popular
interfaces. Flusser reminds us that forgetting is
dying, to forget everything is to die1 it is then
safe to assume, after putting an equality sign between forgetting and erasing of the digital era, that
erasing memories is difficult because of existential
consequences. People do not see themselves as similar to their present selves since in trying to remember what they did at different points of their lives
they perceive themselves as very disconnected and
dispersed. Everything that is remembered upon is
changed, ourselves included. When forcing oneself
to recall amemory, one arrives at aproblem of defining the subject of remembrance. Therefore, the
principle of identity the foundation of Western
culture is rejected by technics and transhumanists. This also triggers labelling a memory as a
ghost as every memory is dispersed and distant,
remembering undergoes metamorphosis into an art
of chasing ghosts. These ghosts however, are more
real than any natural memory that is saved in an
analog format.
The life of atranshuman is backed up in what
we shall call metamemories, backups of memory
Flusser (2011: 104, 110, 147, 148).

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traces optionally publicized on portals or social media. We can already easily measure, record and store
the data from all human senses i.e. heartbeat, sugar
or hormones levels, and even brainwaves. Portable
music players and watches, in accordance with the
Quantified self movement, measure the number of
steps and calories burnt. It is only the question of
time, when music social sites will be algorithmically oriented towards number of kilometers walked
while listening to music, as the route can now be
traced by mapping software (GPS). The whole human life is being digitalized, quantified and formalized. That gave the society areign over an individual, not only his or her mentality, but his internal,
biological integrity as well. Nowadays, doctors can
see inside someones organs while close-knit friends
can locate each other through leaving digital traces.
This is anew way of living which accounts for seeing all aspects of life in their technological magnitude, in the way Baudrillard wrote about endoculture operationalized and most intimate thoughts
are stored in a digital form. The certainty of remembrance is decayed to ametalevel at which the
subject thinks he can remember anything whenever
he wants. This potentiality of remembrance constitutes anew form of certainty.
The aforementioned certainty is not based on
the stable existence of its perceiver but rather on
the feeling that everything can be instantly brought
back to memory. That infers achange in meaning
of Platos argument of how people do not retain
memory due to the contact with acertain medium.
It is not the medium which is to blame, it is the
manner in which life is organized by publicly sharing the memories simulatanous to selling thereof.
So remembering and recording are nearly opposite yet belonging to the same river of digital
Lethe. A problem with Lethe soon arises in atranshumans life one is directed toward forgetting,
that is erasing their memories, and simultanously
one records everything of concern, alas there is
no time to see the recorded content. Storage and
backing up becomes a transhumanistic ritual it
constitutes a metalevel that is a database of digital traces handled by gadgets such as cell phones,
smartphones, personal computers, pendrives, mp3
players, and tablets which are nothing more than
apersonal interactive memory suspensions devices.
We shall return to this point later in the text.
For now probably the only imperative for remembering is the market people want to remem-

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ber their products, services and new possibilities.


Every new possibility is being rapidly replaced by
a new one, so there is neither space nor use for
memory stored in asymbolic way. That tendency,
if continued, means that the memory will be governed by the market in the future people shall not
be the owners of their own memory (or memories)
because aplethora of recording software and hardware will be the property of various corporations.
Through modern day commercial practices we can
already observe the act of seizing the collective
memory. Referring to Michael Sandels example:
some corporations are buying advertising space including not only places commonly thought to be
commercially available (such as billboards, outdoor
screens, newspapers etc.), but also the names of bus
or train stations.2 Changing the name of astation
is more than just acommercial operation, it is also
technical. Moreover, looking from the perspective
of descendants of an individual astation was named
after, they will witness their symbolic and material
heritage being erased. As they are most often not
in a financial or legal control of the station, they
shall have no control nor gain in the governments
transaction. The traces of their existence is gone.
The other aspect of the proces is chaos within the
community as companies do not last forever and
every new name of the station means people will
be less likely to remember it. A station may have
a different label on every map, this in turn leads
to a conclusion that every map should be actualized not only according to political, cultural or
social changes, but also after certain transactions
between an investor and the city; this is akind of
city marketing3. In this case, technology seems to be
just an instrument of change in reality it makes
the change possible and is the policy of erasing the
memory itself. The next stage, we suppose, may be
changing the history for marketing purposes. The
winners who write history will then emerge not
through the recognition of their outstanding deeds
but be chosen according to the amount of memory
they will be able to purchase.
For more examples we might turn to theaters. In amovie titled Ghosts With Shit Jobs4 agirl
earns money by mentioning given brands in con Sandel (2012: 238).
Sandel (2012: 246).
4
Directed by Chris McCawley, Jim Morrison, Jim Munroe, Tate Young, Canada 2012, 94 min.

versations. For every spoken and heard brandname


she receives profit the counter is working in real
time. Of course, her disputants are not aware of
her profession. Nowadays, people sell their free
time for answering pointless polls or their skin for
advertising space. The movie reveals the future of
such atendency aperson becomes an exportable
and replacable being because erasing his memory
and culture causes a loss of his identity, causes
him to be no-one. Culture means transmission
of memory, as says Regis Debray, and here we are
left with a transmissions of brands. Furthermore,
Paul Virillo states: "We can hardly be surprised,
after that, at the recent neocolonial conquest of
this <<sixth continent>> of a virtual space that
replaces the real space of the other five (...)5. ()
A revolution in instantaneous information that is
overturning the chronotope of our daily lives to the
unseen advantage, it would seem, of achronotype
of accelerating historic time in which the instant
dominates all duration from now on. This explains
the characteristic assault on memory and memory
activism which is in the end nothing less than the
triggering economic and political of the first
War of Time for aworld in the grip of its own accelerated spatiotemporal finalization. 6 (...) Being
metastable, open systems always renew themselves.
The closed system, on the other hand, collapses on
itself and implodes. This is what is happening today
with the world economy."7
Our memory is being held hostage to world
economy of digitalized memory. In the constant acceleration of life, the problem is not how to remember but how to forget.The human life gets directed
toward Lethe not Mnemosyne hence ahuman being exists in avirtual state of sudden removal.
Contemporary citizens are the citizens of memory-cities conjugated with Augmented Reality. "Past,
present and future contract the omnipresent instant,
just as the expanse of the terrestrial globe dies these
days in the excessive speed of the constant acceleration of our travels and our telecommunication."8
The component of travel becomes crucial and in
it, the necessity of memory erasure: people travel
between avariety of memory data banks and gain
memories they consider their own. Nowadays, trav Virilio (2010: 77).
Virilio (2010: 92)
7
Virilio (2010: 97)
8
Virilio (2010: 71)

Digital Lethe of transhumanism: weak mind uploading as erasure of individual...

elling equals forgetting foo the reason that technology offers embarking on atrip without leaving ones
place nor any individual effort. Let us elaborate for
amoment by reflecting upon an example of acomputer game user. When aplayer is starting agame
he exports all of his or her memory and replaces it
with the data. In order to gain so-called suspention
of belief the user technically forgets himself for the
time of play and regains his old, symbolic memory
afterwards, yet it is now starting to merge with new,
technical memories acquired in the virtual worlds
while playing the game. In aschizophrenic sense, he
has double or multiple standards for remembering
oneself in different planes, as he suspends his "offline self " to regain the self of avirtual timeline and
then merges it back to the offline memory which
awaits him. That is probably the main reason why
people act differently in virtual spaces, be it agame
world or an interface psychological factors are
strongly determined by technological ones (this is
the central thesis for Sherry Turkles research conducted over the years). Generally, once an interface
is opened the old memory is erased from the current moment in time and stored just to be uploaded
to the user again with his old identity at the end
of the process. Nevertheless, aghostly continuum
exists in-between.
The series of exporting-erasure and importinguploading is embedded in an interference where
the information shapeshifts into ghosts in the sense
Derrida defined them: products of technical media.
Computer games are haunting their users whenever
they are disconnected. On the other hand, people
are not haunted by their offline memory in the
computer game. The user is not fully present in
neither of those realities, or just "unpresent"9, to
use aterm coined by Wojciech Chya. Worse yet,
humans try to exorcise the ghosts of information by
technological exorcism done on memory.
Progress form railroad to interactive technologies causes degeneration of land in the favor of
sky10. This is concluded by Virilio with a strong
diagnosis concerning the loss of the memory enforced by technics: "So the anachronistic acceleration of present reality does not spell the end
of historicity. More importantly, it does spell the
9
It is the opposite to metaphysics of presence (Derrida
term) where being is fully conscious and active.
10
There are placed Virilio words in quotes: Virilio (2010:
70).

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emergence of lying, not by omission any more, but


by deterrence of the future as well as of the past.
This involves sudden loss of memory, every bit as
much as of imagination, about the future of atoocramped telluric planet, cluttered and rendered
insalubrious not so much by rubbish these days
as by the illusions it entertains, its great progressive
illusions."11
The sudden loss of memory and imagination alludes here to people with erased memories left only
with the imagination of new memories. Striking
similarities across peoples imaginations stem from
them being derived from the same data (so there is
no reason to divide between modes of temporality). Problem which prevails is not that the human
race will be terminated by technology, but that it
becomes removable due to preference of their efficiency over their symbolic culture.
A human being needs its territory, without it
he is an unpresent being who becomes an exported
being. The aforementioned weak mind uploading
is realized instantaneously i.e. when one forgets
about his material and symbolic environment while
watching TV, playing agame or listening to music
these are all examples of an everyday weak version
of mind uploading. So to be transhuman, one does
not need to be surgically implanted or connected to
powerful machines able to upload his or her mind
to the datasphere, in the current stage of development, owing to wireless technologies, one could
even be called am exported being metabeing.
The two dominant parts of life play and work (a
symbol of aserious, adult life) are strengthened so
these areas do not intersect. We can notice agreat
instance of such division in the film Play hard,
work hard.12 Yet, never should we forget that simulanously they are gaining proximity to each other in
fields like edutainment or gamification.
Is memory divided into separate parts in alife
of atranshuman? We think so, that is the only way
to establish efficiency. Please consider the following paragraph carefully as the whole culture now
shifts from exteriorization (Andr Leroi Gourhan,
Bernard Stiegler) to exportability (Paul Virilio)
and in the scope of that change movement becomes replaced by transfer. A being is exported
between the fields of work and play thereby being
converted and changed through constant cycle of
Virilio (2010: 7071).
Directed by Carmen Losmann, Leipzig 2011.

11
12

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Rafa Ilnicki

downloading-uploading the memory. "Here we are,


then, way beyond the old wars of memory and the
collective civic duty that went with them, for we
have reached the threshold of the great chronological deterrence and its particularly pathological chronicles... attracted, it would seem, by asort
of atemporal dromological amnesia which will be
never anything more than an alternative version of
aterrorist balance the balance of the computerized terror of cybernetic instantaneity that will take
over from last centurys balance of atomic terror.13
To contextualize the above passage from Virillo
(2011), dromology from "atemporal dromological
amnesia" refers to his idea on how the science of
future is based purely on speed, not on any form
of stable knowledge. "Atemporal" means "without
reference to time continuum" as there is instantaneity that blocks any kind of duration. "Amnesia", of
course, stands for "forgetting" tragically, without
any warning or symptoms. It is the result of the dromological terror of speed which governs modern
life. Speed became the regulating principle of memory and therefore of human identity. In this accelerated, technical progress there is no time to go backwards, to think about the past, one can only erase
the past to make way (or rather space) for an even
more accelerated future. Hence, forgetting equals
being productive: when someone has the ability to
lose his or her memories the ability to work and
play more efficiently is coupled with it, dimished
by the constraints of being present the material
environment and real, non-mediated people.
Ideology of backup assures us that there are
always copies of memory preserved in the case of
failure of memory suspensions systems. A mind
must be uploaded, otherwise it will be deleted by
acceleration of life ruled by technology. A plethora
of devices and interfaces, ranging from apps like instagram to robust services like facebook, can help
export ahuman being into astream of digital data
and after a crash regain the old memory through
importing it back. What the user fails to notice is
the fact that this is just technologically mediated,
backed-up memory last state memory, to evoke
aparallel to asavepoint in agame. We consider this
to be adromological amnesia because people gain
memories of their past without linear presence.
Maybe we should also consider how the ability to
quickly download, export and erase mental data can
Virilio (2010: 73).

13

negate the human need to learn in the traditional


sense?
To conclude, the weak mind uploading can be
compared to brainwashing with one major difference brainwashing concerns involuntary memory
erasure while one undergoes weak mind uploading
willingly. Every such exchange of digital memories
leads to destabilizing human identity. This is what
is left from social contract users of popular interfaces destabilize themselves as it is easier than ever to
forget anything or anyone and harder to create longterm memories. Disappearance forces pleasure14
and brainwashing the minds of users of popular
interfaces by media has its global pleasure effects.
Memory loss feels like an orgy, not suffering. We underscore the conclusion from this paper: one should
not consider digitalization only as contemporary
phenomena as it deeply affects the future, bringing
substantial change in human life and cultural structures. People are currently starting to drown in the
waters of the digital Lethe. Notwithstanding, by
creating ideas and pondering over the transhumanistic future of technological progress they might as
well learn to swim by inventing new ways of preserving the past the fabric of the future.

Bibliography
Flusser 2011 = Flusser, Vilem: Into the Universe of Technical Images, trans. N.A. Roth, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 2011.
Sandel 2012 = Michel, Sandel: Czego nie mona kupi za
pienidze? Moralne granice rynku (What money cant
buy: the moral limits of markets), trans. A. Chromik, T. Sikora, Kurhaus Publishing, Warszawa 2012.
Virilio 2011 = Virilio, Paul: Futursim of the Instant:
Stop-Eject, trans. J. Rose, Polity Press, Cambridge
2010.

Virilio (2010: 76).

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