Are we okay with Facebook Memories now? I came across a way of thinking about them while reading Alex Goody’s excellent Technology, Literature and Culture. She reads Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape using ideas around cyborgs and the technologized body, influenced by Donna Haraway. She discusses the role that the tapes play in Krapp’s attempt to coherently understand himself. Krapp, the sole actor, is a man of 69 who listens to tapes of himself speaking, giving accounts, from the previous years of his life. The entire play is a form of monologue, shared between the physical Krapp on stage and the various disembodied technologized versions of him we hear through the tapes. Discussing the effect of this dramatic device on notions of identity in Beckett’s text, Goody writes:
what it seems to offer is the possibility of transcending the mutability of the physical self by fixing a material embodiment of the self which can be infinitely retrieved. The machine seems to offer Krapp the chance of extending himself through technology […] the same memories, preoccupations, hopes and anxieties endlessly repeating themselves.
It’s this notion of infinite retrieval which made me think of Facebook Memories. It occurs to me that, in the future, we might receive a notification which is a memory of a memory – something we reshared last year will become something to remember in the next. This raises questions about how this archival revenant, a daily visit from the goon squad, influences our understanding of subjectivity – and might even alter what we think of as a memory. Is the effect of an archive of the self in fact to emphasize in an everyday mechanism that we can’t think of ourselves as a continuous subject? It points at the patchwork lives and narratives which you’ve chronicled thus far without any kind of lens or bias – because it was you who put it there before. Looking at a memory on Facebook instantly recreates a kind of physical echo, because you’re there, looking at Facebook. Goody articulates for us:
Technology which allows us to archive physical versions of ourselves, which can be reactivated at any future point, forces us to ask questions about the materiality or not of our consciousness and the status of our identity in time and space.
So how should we ask these questions, and what kind of answer might we get near? For Krapp, at least, Goody sees these technologized selves as serving to highlight the difficulty of grasping one’s own identity, or put another way, of the impossibility of gaining a perspective on the present self:
[Krapp’s selves] multiply in the technological prostheses that outlive him. The tragedy of the play is that these selves are fundamentally non-coincident so that, even as technological subject, the individual can never be present to himself.
Facebook memories provides a version of this concept, I think. In one respect, it’s a twee social media gimmick, an archive which is designed to package nostalgia, to the extent that you can do your own form of digital curation-cum-repression (“Didn’t like that ‘memory’? We can make it go away for you.”) But perhaps it’s more effectively seen as a version of Krapp’s tapes, an observing of a technological self. It can remind us to ask questions about how we understand ourselves from year to year, not in a the form of some plastic nostalgia, but by reminding us that we’re not really one fixed person, but part of a number of different non-coincident narratives. The bigger tragedy is a life – the previous stuff that someone who was a bit like us was part of – forgotten, repressed, not remembered even by the self. Rather examine, reconsider and remake the disembodied, technological selves into another narrative, accepting both the loss and the gain of viewing the past.
Goody, A. Technology, Literature and Culture. (Cambridge: Polity) 2011