What if memory were a saleable commodity?
I think this idea must have been implanted in my grey matter sometime around the time I first saw Total Recall when I was, I dunno, 15 or so, but I think it’s not so far-flung an idea as it perhaps seems on the surface. When you consider the exponential growth of technology, and the fact that you now have a device in your pocket which can measure your caloric intake, sleep cycle, physical activity or lack thereof, and sharknado, probably even your bowel movements during the day, is it so hard to imagine a future wherein memories can be added to your hard drive for a fee? Or deleted?
Terrible childhood keeping you from living up to your potential? Not anymore. Erase those awful parents and replace them with the Stepford Wives version of your mom. All aprons and chocolate cakes and hot dinners and high heels. Dad used to smack you around? No, he didn’t. Your dad was the perfect, pipe-smoking, newspaper-reading, catch-playing, allowance-giving Leave-it-to-Beaver dad. (Truth time, I never saw a single episode of Leave it to Beaver, but that’s what it was about, right?)
It feels like science fiction, but it isn’t. In the short space of my lifetime — and I got started in the eighties — we’ve gone from the height of technology being a little black box on your belt that can receive phone calls but not place them, a hulking computer which could choke when reading a floppy disk — an actual floppy disk that was actually floppy — to almost everybody in the US owning a computer that fits in your pocket. Oh, and that computer is connected — by fargoing magic, it would seem to our selves from twenty years ago — to a series of computers around the world which give us access to any bit of information we might want, from local movie times to the phases of the moon to the entire history of ancient Greece to entire catalogs of movies and television shows. Oh, and this computer also makes phone calls. AND LETS YOU TALK FACE TO FACE TO SOMEBODY ACROSS THE GLOBE.
The cover of Time magazine a few months ago featured the next step in “Smart” technology — a glowing heads-up display embedded in the forearm. Smart Watches are all the rage at the moment; there are no fewer than dozens of models being hawked in magazines and tech websites now, and you may be getting one for Christmas. Google Glass, much though it’s stumbling and crashing into the furniture in its infancy much like my two-year-old son, is here and refining itself and not going anywhere. In a few years, we will hardly remember a time when the computer chips were on the outside of our heads; when conducting an internet search required interfacing with a keyboard and a digital screen rather than the automatic firing of neurons and the insides of our eyelids.
There will be arguments about whether real or “artificial” memories are superior, though it will hardly matter, because the artificial ones will feel so real we’ll be unable to tell the difference. There will be debates about whether the tech should be usable in certain situations — I can foresee a scandal wherein a kid who’s never cracked a book in his life wins the National Spelling Bee over all the geniuses through the covert use of his neural implants, but nobody will be able to prove it. The moment you meet a new person, their vitae will be displayed in searing neon text inside your brain, with the option to view a full background history for a small fee, you need only “glance right” and the money will automatically be debited from your account.
There will be no such thing as “off the grid” anymore, because we will be the grid. You won’t be able to “unplug” anymore, because the stuff will be plugged into you.
I wrote a short story some months ago about a society wherein nobody was able to lie anymore because everybody had a device implanted into his head which blinked if they told a lie. Make lying impossible, and the ability will disappear. Except the world needs liars, so naturally, scientists found a way to bypass the very tech they had created to make lying impossible. Not my best story, to be sure, but it seems relevant to the topic at hand. At any rate, I go back to that story because it’s science fiction… except that it’s not. We’ve had technology for years which, through a simple reading of your blood pressure, pulse rate, or even the dilation of your pupils can tell if you’re lying. How much of a stretch is it to imagine a world where they just hook that stuff up to you at birth to cut out the middle man?
Sure, this means that we’d view everybody as an inherently deceitful and disingenuous person. But hell, Sam’s Club checks your receipt before you walk out the door, and you pay for the privilege of shopping there.
When we can implant memories — and remove the ones we don’t want — what will happen to the idea of identity? What will happen to the idea of being a unique person?
I’ve never climbed Everest, but I could easily implant a memory that I had. And if I remember it — if I can smell the snow and feel the thinness of the air and see the panorama of distant mountain peaks and the world far below — is it not real? For that matter, if something happened to me in my life and I can’t remember it — did it ever really happen? Are we not all, at the end of the day, brains in a vat?
Believe it or not, no psychotropic substances were involved in the writing of this rambling blarg post. Only a deep-seated paranoia about our collective cybernetic future. I for one would like to preemptively voice my whole-hearted endorsement of our prospective robot overlords, and ask that when they plug me into the Matrix, they make me believe that I am a freaking ninja with a boat and a talking dog. And a hoverboard. Because yay, hoverboards.
This post is part of SoCS. Typed with no editing at all, only spellchecking. Which I’ve already had implanted in my brain.