History of memory artifacts

In Lucas Bietti & Pogacar Martin (eds.), The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Memory Studies. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 1-12 (2023)
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Human biological memory systems have adapted to use technological artifacts to overcome some of the limitations of these systems. For example, when performing a difficult calculation, we use pen and paper to create and store external number symbols; when remembering our appointments, we use a calendar; when remembering what to buy, we use a shopping list. This chapter looks at the history of memory artifacts, describing the evolution from cave paintings to virtual reality. It first characterizes memory artifacts, memory systems, and the two main functions such artifacts have, which are to aid individual users in completing memory tasks and as a cultural inheritance channel (section 2). It then outlines some of our first symbolic practices such as making cave paintings and figurines, and then moves on to outline several key developments in external representational systems and the artifacts that support these such as written language, numeral systems and counting devices, diagrams and maps, measuring devices, libraries and archives, photographs, analogue and digital computational artifacts, the World Wide Web, virtual reality, and smartphones (section 3). After that, it makes some brief points about the cumulative nature of the cultural evolution of memory artifacts and speculates about the possible future of memory artifacts, arguing that it is very difficult to look beyond an epistemological horizon of more than five years (section 4).

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Richard Heersmink
Tilburg University


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