Effect of Technology on Memory
Memory plays a critical role in understanding our collective and personal past. In the field of arts, for example, it has been used in different ways, and for various purposes. Memory has faculties, which differentiate its over-simplified concept. Simply put, memory functions on two levels, semantic and episodic. Whereas the episodic memory is that, which has the events that have happened to our personal lives in the past, semantic memory serves to offer general knowledge. In Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, the concept of memory as well as how technology impacts it is well illustrated. As matter of fact, this is case illustrating the importance of memory and how it depends on technology. Simply put, it is like a philosophical manifest, an perfect model in the manner in which postmodern humanity attempts to find itself in times of alienation.
One of the key things that initially comes at the beginning of the play is that technology, particularly the tape recorder, acts as an embodiment of memory. As a trend starter and an avant-garde writer, Becket was so much and intensely in touch with his own time that was characterized by its most important realities. In particular, the progress of technology. In the play, Krapp’s Last Tape, which was initially performed in 1958, we encounter yet another character, Krapp, an old recluse, who is both disillusioned and spiritually crippled. On the stage, Krapp is alone, accompanied by a tape recorder only. The machine/tape makes Krapp complete and offers him a link to his past life, a grounding force that plays a critical part in providing him a stronger presence. However, what still remains is that Krapp is no better off than other characters in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. Whichever crumbs of hope that may come as a result of the technology, the human condition is remains the core of human problem, and that in itself might not be changed by any kind of insights into the past, regardless of how clear the technology may be at ensuring past things are remembered.
In Krapp’s Last Tape, Krapp, as earlier aforementioned, is aged man that is desperately looking for his memories despite being at the age where the rate at which human memory forgets is so high. Due to this unavoidable reality and also because of the developments in technology, Krapp relies so heavily on his recorder to remember his past. Whereas Krapp’s subconscious tries to forget, he continues even further in order to pursue remembrance. Krapp’s repressive self-exhortation as well as the absence of dialogue ensures that memory dominance is furthered on the present. In other words, it can be taken to mean that Krapp’s present is not significant that his emotional oscillations rely entirely on his memories and in turn, his present is impacted by the conditioning absence of those particular memories in Krapp’s present.
As a result of this passage, a man listening to his younger self going ahead to even comment even on his younger self, the author, Beckett, is trying and exclusively expresses the main paradox that personal archiving technology presents, that is, the technology’s ability to simultaneously trivialise as well as enhance people’s experiences. So as to continue his archive, Krapp listens carefully to the old tapes as a sad inspiration. What appears to be so human (but also his weakness nature: Krapp’s paradoxical oscillation between quick rhythm and slow motion, his lack of patience when he discover certain forgotten definition) is addressed by Krapp’s appeal to external memory. As a matter of fact, this alienation is exposed paradoxically by communication inflation, which is mediated by machines that are the prosthetic memory organs: “Before Marshall McLuhan there was Krapp: a man whose life is mediated by his own sound recordings. A one-act, one-man dialogue with himself (or his past selves), this play
is one of Beckett‘s most comic. On his birthday (his last, as the play‘s title ominously underlines), the aged Krapp sits with his tape recorder, dictionary, and bananas and listens to his own past as spoken by a younger voice, sometimes with delight, sometimes confusion, irritation, or despair”(84)
As a result of this, the present mutism, which is common in the play is a demonstration of a melancholic dissociation with the present. In addition, Krapp’s vision constantly dialogue with the memories like his vision is trying to tune into the past life. The urge to get into the memory is because of the fact that the mind via the wants of the memory, “to revive perceptions that one point it had with additional perception annexed to them, that it has had them before”. Therefore, this is a clear suggestion of desperate desire by Krapp to live in the past. In addition, it suggests his despise for the present. This is clearly evidenced further by Krapp’s apparent attempts to be even much closer to the recorder machine indicating his urge to be as close to the past as possible. Krapp has achieved this because of the technological presence as he could with no any effort internally confront himself with his past by using the machine. Therefore, with the assistance of technology, his mind is able to focus every aspect of this power and effort to tune precisely to the reality of his past.
Krapp makes his personal valuation regarding the manner in which the young Krapp both used to think and live his life at the end of his life. Using his tapes, he encounters with himself. As a result of this form of self-duplication, we clearly see a number of variations of disgusts and pleasures. A fragmented self is clearly seen, a reproduction of self that intersect with his shadows’ unconsciousness. Thus, by regaining a lost unity, we become heroes again as we rehabilitate the self. Krapp lives in solitude completely, as Beckett quotes: “The new light above my table is a great improvement. With all this darkness around me I feel less alone” (272).
In the absence of technology that acts as a real interlocutor, Krapp appears to be a victim of his own narcissism. This is more so because Krapp finds himself and more specifically his voice manifested in the recoding tape. As this goes on, Krapp’s voice is contemplating regarding his self as well as regarding his selves. Because of this kind of mirror of a mirror, a pluralistic, a self-reference identity, a cluster of selves.
Technological determinism impacts the perception of humans. Krapp provides and projects meanings to machines by talking to the machine, and, one way or the other, the machine responds to him through rating the stories to him. Krapp is able to get access to his purified memories, via his recordings, mixing desire with memory by attempting to smother and revive the previous play: “The death of Krapp’s mother and the love episode on the river are presented as if “out of time” and beyond interaction. Encounters are distilled into still points (“moments”); persons are transmuted into presences. The female would-be characters pass through the potential events recorded on the tape as images, “figures,” and eyes.” (135)
Technology also has the ability to make memory believe that recorded voice is real. In Psycho, the voice of the dead mother is exactly similar to the voice that the young Krapp had heard in the Krapp’s Last Tape on the tape recorder, ‘a voice and nothing more’ – dead – yet varies, insofar as the mother is conjured Acousmetre or constructed. Thus, Krapp’s dead mother becomes the dummy of ventriloquism.
As a result of the audience belief in technology and its entrust in representation, Krapp’s recorded voice is made real. Robert Barry, a musician, writer, and artist, wrote an article regarding the horror films voices, ‘Voices Without Bodies’ (2011), which provided a description of some sound tracks from films like Psycho and argued pointed out that Janet Leigh was attacked by the violins in the shower.
In the history of media or theory of media, the essay by Friedrich Kittler on “Gramophone, Film, Typewriter” (1987) as well as a book that had the same title (1999), Kittler pre-empted certain aspects of technological advancements presently of concern concerning voice, memory, as well as media. He pointed out that “the notion of media is becoming less important, forms of digital representation are united by numbers, this unification allows any medium [to] be translated into another… “Sound and image voice and text have become mere effects on the surface” (352). In his analysis, the author, Kittler, described these three forms of technology, ‘Typewriter’ ‘Gramophone’ and ‘Film’ to be origins of technological world providing a detailed description of each of them and their relationships with death and representation. According to Kittler (1999), the main reason why Gramophone or phonograph was invented by Edison was remember his relatives that had died – archiving the “the final words of dying” (353). As a result, we have the infamous proposion of James Joyce for gramophone ‘regarding each grave’, which resulted in a number of stories of telecommunications with the deceased. Kittler made final remarks with a statement that noted: “[o]ur realm of the dead is no longer in books, where it was for such a long time.” (354). Clearly, technology has externalize our memory rather than the traditional books that have been eployed.
Despite remembering all these, Krapp feels so disillusioned because it is not possible to physically transfer oneself to the past. Therefore, he is so frustrated. In this instance, memory is portrayed as an agent, which has the ability to seduce its subject and prevents it from being satisfied. Accessing memory with the help of technology goes past the boundaries of the nature of remembrance. In other words, it suggests over-accessibility; the subject gets manipulated and is not able to confront with the present’s reality. It is a kind of superficial offering, implying a kind of accessibility in which memory seems to be present; however, its pastness never changes.
Other aspects, which the memory deliverance by technology provides Krapp especially is the fact that Krapp is able to decide to not know, as evident in the play where he switches off the tape sometimes. This can also be argued to be over-accessibility product that come as a result of technology. Hence, it can be deduced that through technology, it is possible to both modify and manipulate memory. The play shows this when Krapp forwards fast the spool and pays more attention to only those aspects of his life that he considers most pleasurable to know or hear. The play’s text has a collection of these accessibilities where it is shown that: “Krapp curses, switches off, winds tape forward, switches on again]-unshatterable association until my dissolution of storm and night with the light of the understanding and the fire -[Krapp curses louder, switches off, winds tape forward, switches on again]…” (275).
In relation to this mechanical memory representation, Steven Connor points out that “by making involuntary memory voluntary – commits Krapp to the destruction of moments that refuse reduction to human control” (152). Due to this kind of remembering the past that takes place voluntarily, Krapp is distanced from and in fact becomes different from who and what he was in the past. In other words, Krapp does not hold the complete mental content, which he initially had in the past. Rather, his past self changes so as to become a stranger to his present self; Krapp is compelled to learn about his past self one again in order to feel the intimacy between past and present self. For example, after realized he forgot the meaning of the term “viduity”, Krapp immediately looks up the term in the dictionary with the objective of catching up with his past. Thus, the concept of memory is illustrated here to be acting as an agent, which puts the present and past to be in competition. The play in Krapp’s Last Tape takes place in the dialogue between a discontent and distilled figure and a mechanized memory presence, which disqualifies the present based on the competition that exists between the past and the present.
Becket’s assertion that technology, Krapp’s Last Tape, can act as a tool that can be employed to remember the past is supported further by Friedrich Kittler in his analysis of analysis of technology and memory. In his “Gramophone”, one thing that stands out is that, “Only that which reminds us of something else makes an impression” (pg. 30). The idea that the phonographs are like our brains, or better yet, that our brains are like phonographs explicitly indicates the idea of simulacrum. Gramophone, in Kittler’s analysis illustrates the claim that our brains may work life the same that phonographs work when he highlights, “Invisible lines are incessentaly carved into the brain cells, which provide a channel for nerve streams. If, after some time, the stream encounters a channel it has already passed through, it will once again proceed along the same path. The cells vibrate in the same way they vibrated the first time: psychologically, these similar vibrations correspond to an emotion or a thought analogous to the forgotten emotion” (67). Thus, they are similar in that the inscriptions, which our voices make can be played back when traced over with a needle. On the other hand, people’s thoughts follow paths that memory creates. Conversely, simulacrum destroys its initial model and hence becoming the new original.
In summary, technology affects memory in a number of ways. In Krapp’s Last Tape, Beckett has demonstrated this using a tape recorder (technology) to the show two aspects of Krapp’s life, the past self and present self. With the development of technology, these two life aspects have come to compete each other and to some extent disqualify the other. This is supported by Kittler’s analysis of technology and memory, as well as Steven Conor’s lecture in the series Taping the World.
Beckett, S. (2009). Krapp’s last tape and other dramatic pieces. Grove/Atlantic, Inc..
Connor, S. (2004). Looping the Loop: Tape-Time in Burroughs and Beckett. idea, 114, 121.
Kittler, F. A. (1999). Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, translated by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young
and Michael Wutz.