I was just recently told the following story. A friend of a friend of mine, let's call her Mary, has undergone some significant life changes. In the past year and a half, she broke up with her long time boyfriend, got engaged to another man, and started a new job for which she had put in a great number of hours of training. Well, over spring break, Mary fell down a flight of stairs and ended up being in a coma for several days. When she came out of the coma, she could not remember the past year and a half of her life. She was diagnosed with an acute case of amnesia. Apparently, she had just recently moved into an apartment with her fiance. Her reaction upon meeting her fiance was "who are you?" She was forced to forfeit her new job and had trouble accepting the fact that she and her long time boyfriend had separated. When I heard this story, my first reaction was that I had heard this all before. True, Rebecca West's short novel, The Return of the Soldier exhibits a very similar plot. Then I remembered one of the Max Headroom episodes that I had seen in class.
In the very first episode of Max Headroom, a television news reporter crashes his motorcycle and falls into a coma. While in a coma, a computer genius devises a program that will dump the reporter's memory into a computer. The result: a computer generated avatar-human called Max Headroom. Here, again, we encounter the idea of the transcience of memory. Memory could be said to be the keystone component of human existence. In essence, to annihilate memory is to annihilate the past. Much like a human, a computer without memory is non-functional and useless.
In the film Bladerunner, we are introduced to replicants: biologically engineered humans whose life memories have been implanted. When one of these replicants learns that her memories are not her own, but have been implanted, she seemingly becomes suicidal. Both her sense of self and her sense of identity are destroyed. So what happens when and if memory becomes merely a modelled construction? Can identity be created so easily?
Baudrillard would have it that pretty much everything is a simulacrum. We could extend his theories to include both memory and identity. Then what the heck is real?
We are in the midst of a new, pop-culture wave of fascination with Japanese animation. The appeal: scantily clad women, violence, what else do people want, really? Steve Cook gives some details on the sex depicted in these animations. Ghost in the Shell depicts a cyber-world, where jacking in is a reality and skin is simply a shell for electronica. In this cyber-age to come, will electronic information rule our lives? Does this mean that we'll be living in a world of electronic texts? Hypertext will be the new God.
[To other discussions of this topic by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]