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Prosthetic Memory and the Extended Mind in Sleep Dealer

by Marina Hassapopoulou

This scene from Alex Rivera's independent sci-fi film, Sleep Dealer (2008), extends Alison Landsberg's notion of prosthetic memory into interactive and networked forms of virtual media. Landsberg uses the term prosthetic memory to refer to individuals relating mediated images of the past to their own life experiences in an empathetic manner. Individuals therefore internalize those borrowed images by integrating them into moments they have directly experienced, such as the experience of watching a film where the filmic images themselves can become subsumed into the viewer’s overall memory of that experience.

In this scene, the idea of prosthetic memory is explored to its full potential by showcasing a memory archive that is deterritorialized: memory is no longer sustained within the individual mind, but is audiovisually translated [put into the standardized language of digital video] and stored in a globally-accessible platform. Memories are "transcoded" into the universal language of film, and become easily accessible commodities within an economy of surveillance. This is essentially the impulse of social media and Web 2.0: to become a seamless and, even, automatic extension of the human mind. Subjectivity and abstract thoughts thus become translated into an audiovisual language that can be accessible to everyone and potentially everywhere with access to the network. This scene offers profound insight into the capabilities of digital media to externalize and alter cognitive processes of memory making.

I identify this phenomenon as technomemory: a type of hybrid memory that exemplifies the fusion of (digital) technologies with biological processes of recollection, information retrieval, and sociocultural associations. Being both science and "realistic" fiction, the film explores the creative potential of mind-pervasive technological prostheses and at the same time audio-visualizes the idea of extended cognition. Reminiscent of theories of "The Extended Mind" by Chalmers and Clark (1998), which have been currently gaining new momentum in the context of virtual reality, Sleep Dealer explores the argument that objects can function as an extension of the mind and can even possess their own cognitive attributes that operate independently of human cognition... To be continued with another sci-fi clip.

Prosthetic Memory

An excerpt from Alex Rivera's not-so-futuristic sci-fi film, Sleep Dealer (2008), extending Alison Landsberg's notion of prosthetic memory to interactive technologies and to the idea of the extended mind.

from Sleep Dealer (2008)
Creator: Alex Rivera
Distributor: DVD
Posted by Marina Hassapopoulou