MEmory: Black Mirror (@vfxhanley) #digidisciple

December saw the release of a three part series called Black Mirror created by Charlie Brooker. The title reminds us of the black reflective screen that you are probably staring into right now to read this. Charlie Brooker was reported in the Guardian as saying

If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The “black mirror” of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a Smartphone.

Brooker created the idea, wrote the first episode and co-wrote the other two. The first episode explores the power of a digital audience and popular opinion. Like the Good Friday crowd who were only too willing to praise the hero of Jerusalem a few days earlier – Brooker shows that the public are fickle … and that Social Media gives our fickleness a greater power. An artist kidnaps a popular princess. He posts her ransom demand on YouTube and within minutes the video is trending. What is his demand?  – that the Prime Minister has sex with a pig on live television. A ridiculous idea, but once we on twitter get a hold of it …. he has little choice!

The second episode is a world that needs constant powering – so all young adults work on power bikes; a world whose political system is a kin to X factor; a world that no longer has television channels that are your choice to turn on or off – but streams that already know what you like and what you have watched (and which charge you to turn off); and a world that is entirely mediated through apps and avatars. The story is of two people who desperately want to escape the mundane, drab nothingness of digital life … longing for something real who in the end are coerced into collaborating with the principalities and powers and contribute to maintaining the status quo.

The third episode is the one that interests some of my current thinking. In my last post I wrote about the place of movement in the digital age, particularly with some of the ancient traditions of pilgrimage, stations of the cross and labyrinths; another area that I find interesting, and in relationship with movement in ancient spiritual discipline, is that of memory. The third episode imagines that individuals are given an implant just behind the ear that records everything in their life (some have equated it to the new timeline function in Facebook). So if you want to remember something you just play it back – either in your own head or on a screen so others can see. The story is of a man who discovers, through his own and others peoples playbacks, that his wife has had an affair.

My Memory and Me

What really fascinates me is the way in which memory acts as both a creator and defiler of personhood. My memory (and my ability to forget) is what helps to define who I am (one of the tragic side effects of diseases like dementia is not simply the loss of recognition – but the loss of identity), but equally I self select that which I want to bring to mind and project my past to others in a particular way. So I can be different in different settings and in doing so I’m not being disingenuous to others. Instead I am reflecting the complexity of being formed and shaped by a variety of experiences, narratives and emotional responses. In certain settings, some of those experiences, emotions and narratives take on greater significance than others.

And memory is never without emotional attachment. You could see a picture of an old lady sitting in a chair on my facebook page that was taken 10 years ago and never know that was the last picture of Grandma, or read a status update from a year ago about how delighted I am to make it to the top of Snowdon without knowing the agony of my blisters and the aching of knees! My memory is embodied, it is not simply a stream of raw data.

But what happens when my memory is corporate property? When my photo’s, tweets, status updates, blog posts and maybe even recorded memories are not simply mine to curate and interpret – but yours too!?

It is true that we will always run the risk of being misunderstood and misconstrued with or without digital media but the storage of my disembodied memories brings this into sharp relief .

Re – membering in a digital age.

How does this relate to the spiritual practices of labyrinth, stations of the cross and pilgrimage? Well our renewed interest in them is because of an ancient memory. A memory of a discipline that served the faithful of old well. But part of that practice was the freedom of interpretation, to allow the act itself to resonate with our own narrative and the experience of these disciplines is also physical; in the medieval period monks would crawl a labyrinth on their knees! Digital memory works differently, digital memory is mass produced, accessible and pre-interpreted. It is the memory of old that brings these ancient disciplines into being for a new generation – but at the same time we might nullify their transformative power by denying them an interpretative narrative and physical experience that is personal and owned. Ric Stott, a pioneer minister and artist would want to remind us that there is the world of difference between a one off piece of art on canvas or in clay and that of a mass produced piece of art that is on every laptop, iPad and digital device.

So should we abandon these ancient disciplines for a digital age? My answer is No! But we must be very careful that we do not destroy the very thing we are trying to recover. Equally, we must be attentive to the way in which digital memory affects us as individuals and as a community.

Charlie Brooker can have the last word:

each episode has a different cast, a different setting, even a different reality. But they’re all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.

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