Short Memory & Data Overload, Colltalers
The digital technology explosion has given a boost to the U.S.’s self-appointed ‘leader of the world’ role . But that’s been quickly undermined by the dizzying multiplication of means to capture information, which have far outpaced any ability of processing it.
This collision of mere data collecting with its purpose has also widen the gap between what needs to be historically kept, and what gives meaning and relevance to our collective memory. The past week may have further enhanced this disconnect in the U.S.
Take last Wednesday’s revelation, for instance, that the Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration secretly collected billions of calls, anticipating in years the NSA’s even more massive surveillance program that mirrored it. But they did not prevent 9/11 from happening.
Or the 150th anniversary, on April 9th, of the end of the Civil War – by sheer number of casualties, the bloodiest American conflict so far – and slavery, just a few days after the shooting and killing of yet another unarmed black man by a white policeman.
But the news cycle also offered another perspective, as to how society can turn to memory and information to either bastardize or change its future: the handshake between President Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro may have buried half a century of bad connections.
The digital revolution, continuously spitting gigabytes of pseudo-free information at us, gives us the illusion of knowledge and control, but it’s actually designed to cloud what we see, by simply dumping on us impossible amounts of encrypted data we have little use for. That is, if we’re not part of a rising elite of manipulators, who maneuvers and makes decisions based on just such an impossibility.
No matter how vast and particularly cruel an episode of massive loss or extermination, of ethnic cleansing or methodic murdering, may be, there’s always been the risk that beyond the few generations directed affected by it, oblivion and forgetfulness would set in.
That danger still exists today. While the reminder of the Holocaust, for instance, is now more accessible to everyone than ever, and its memory is constantly reinforced by historical account and even more data, many remain ignorant, or worse, doubtful of it.
But either before or since it, we’ve already experienced and forgotten the unspeakable massacre of millions or just a few dozen, with the same easy as we page through the Internet and find information about an ancestor. Most likely, we do it by specific agency towards it, or pure luck, rather than by the source availability at our fingertips. There’s a lot of data out there but it mainly blind us to it all.
Speaking of fading memory of atrocities, Kaname Harada, a 94-year old former pilot of the feared Imperial Japan’s Zero squadron, now spends his days telling new generations about the horrors of war. People in their 50s had no clue about what he’s been talking about. His mission is to fight the alarming signs that Japanese leaders are preparing to change the country’s pacifist constitution.
We offer that such insidiousness is more poisonous than forgetfulness, or death of everyone directly related to an event, which used to afflict those who came before. To some of the living today, the world’s only six thousand years old, just as bible fanatics would want everyone else to believe, and there’s no way that some contemporary conflicts are just perennial reenactments of medieval grudges.
This is the age of more available data that can possibly be processed, so we tend to deputize our memories to digital robots, which actually follow their own, separate agenda. The result is not that we lack the data, but the ability to see what it’s revealing to us.
Google, Facebook, or the local branch of your bank, having the power to amass and draw meaning from such data, control what they need to know, and when, so to make anyone do exactly what they need anyone to do. They’ll remember it wholesale for you.
The NSA will too, but won’t tell you, and may actually come after you for it. In both cases, these enterprises operate above your grasp of your basic rights, because they essentially are not elected by you to run their business; instead, they often control the elected too.
The disconnect mentioned above is not new. When slavery was declared illegal in the U.S., it marked to millions, the beginning of the struggle for equal civil rights in this country. Even far from accomplished, it’s still the noble memory linked to the Civil War.
More relevant, however, were economic factors rendering slavery costly and untenable to the growing nation, even if its end meant loss to a large segment of the upper class at the time. That dollars and sense aspect was the flip side of the end of human trafficking.
But even that noble memory hasn’t traveled well in the century and an half since, as the grossly under reporting of shooting deaths of black people, their overwhelming presence in American prisons, and general reluctance to even discuss their disfranchising in the U.S. have constantly reminded us. In this context, to mention the open prejudice still directed at the president is almost a diversion.
Such mistrust, though, didn’t prevent him from breaking the thaw with Cuba, a tiny island which, without U.S.’s obsession, would’ve likely become just another vacation spot by now, and not the perceived villainous, retro-dictatorship that it still is these days.
Memory, which the digital age purports to preserve, is actually more endangered now than it’s ever been, and not just because of the technology’s shortcomings. If in the past, memory’s ultimate relevance and truth – history is indeed told by the victors, after all – has always been up to whomever records it, and how, and for whom, today is at par with people’s ability to correctly decode it.
The underlying theme of memory, lost, disrupted, or corrupted as in data exposed to the elements, was again in evidence yesterday, when a former U.S. first lady, presidential contender, and Secretary of State for President Obama, announced her new run. Hillary Clinton’s reentry in the race for the White House is as predictable as her eventual main opponent’s, yet another Bush, may be.
While some joke that it’ll be deja vu all over again in America – the Clinton & Bush 1990s America roadshow revival – history, as it’s been said by Marx, may repeat itself as farce again. Or not repeat itself whatsoever, since old Karl is as remote a political figure in American politics as voter power and ideas are in this campaign cycle. She’d, however, be the first American female president.
Brazil, whose own first female president’s struggling to survive her second term, could also use some of that memory chip; not the 1990s but the 1960s kind. As new street rallies ask for Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, some displayed banners begging for another military takeover. Despite all data available about those cruel, dark years, many not around then have no way to apprehend it now.
‘Yes, we did produce a near-perfect republic. But will they keep it? Or will they, in the enjoyment of plenty, lose the memory of freedom?’ The so-apropos quote is by U.S.’s Founding Father and third-president Thomas Jefferson, whose 272nd birthday’s today.
He may’d been speaking of himself, but it could’ve also been about Brazil’s dissatisfied middle-class, or Americans, brought up in the wealth of data and information, who don’t seem to care, however, whether in 2016 they’ll finally vote, or be still glad they can exchange some personal data for free latte and another phone. Here’s hoping they wise up. Good luck on Tax Day. WC