Mobile Material Essays, Palimpests, and Hypomnemata
I am starting to piece together some actual detail regarding the salient points of these mobile material essays I have written about here and here. But this post isn’t it. This is about some useful metaphors I found while reading the work of my supervisor (I read his thesis) that helped me organize some disparate variables that had been circling my head for some time. I felt these were part of this discussion of authoring via mobile technology (and what those ‘writing’ products might look like), but they were variables I had yet to cohesively define. Sure, these writings would be material and they more than likely would not be exclusively textual (multimodal), but I hadn’t come up with a cohesive organizing structure for them. I see experimentation here and there, both inside and outside higher education and this is all exciting, but I wanted to get at actually defining what learning as production and authorship might look like. These metaphors helped shed some light on this conundrum. Enough with the preamble.
I should mention that my focus here is how these terms might organize memory, history, and its related offshoots (philosophy, etc.). I am interested in how memory and history can be enacted via mobile technology as an adjunct and buttress to the present. How we learn through our pasts about our present (and future).
For some of you, these will be quite obvious (as they were resurrected by Foucault); for others, like me, they were new and I am open to learning new things. Or at least not be ashamed that I don’t know everything. Either way, they are fun (how is that for academic-speak?) concepts and might help organize thoughts around the role of technological mediated learning. I mentioned the first, palimpsest, before. The images I have included in this post are my takes on these terms. They might not appear on first glance (or even after careful inspection) to have anything to do with the terms being discussed. But they resonate with me and walk me a bit further towards comprehension. I use images in these posts as learning aids, mostly for me.
Palimpsest: (as taken straight from Wikipedia, our collective memory)
A palimpsest (/ˈpælɪmpsɛst/) is a manuscript page from a scroll or book from which the text has been scraped off and which can be used again. The word “palimpsest” comes through Latinpalimpsēstus from Ancient Greekπαλίμψηστος (palímpsestos, “scratched or scraped again”) originally compounded from πάλιν (palin, “again”) and ψάω (psao, “I scrape”) literally meaning “scraped clean and used again”. Romans wrote on wax-coated tablets that could be smoothed and reused, and a passing use of the term “palimpsest” by Cicero seems to refer to this practice.
I think there any number of parallels here with technology both rudimentary and advanced. Think rock art, notebook, Etch a Sketch, tablet (iPad et al). This is a fairly common metaphor. But I think it works remarkably well as a metaphor not for the technology itself, but rather the learning that takes place there. Palimpsests creates environments of ephemerality, of experimentation with variables for learning effect, and once learned, they are discarded. I see this as a nice parallel to Vygotsky et al and the nature of profound learning. Once learned, it defines future thinking. The riverbed in which the water flows. So, it is easy and mature to discard the learning once it has been learned. It has served its purpose. It can’t be unlearned.
Learning technology can and does support this experimentation with variables for learning effect and I see mobile technology advancing this even further by allowing for the experimentation of variables with immediate and situated effect. Ie, those right in front of us, at that moment and in this space. So it isn’t a matter of experiencing, then distancing, then analyzing and learning, and then coming back to apply. It is an accelerated timeframe for learning. I layer past over present, combine variables with little contextual relation, discard those combinations that don’t work. I collide worlds of learning, bringing learning from outside this context into this context. And I do it in motion or in habitus.
Bear with me here, but I see my Stickies (I am a Mac user) as my bits of disaggregated palimpsests. They are unified by necessity (they have to be done or referred to), they are unified by color (yellow relates the digital with the material reference), and they evolve constantly. Once one is done, another takes its place built on what has been accomplished. They are progressive and ephemeral. Records of learning. And no, I don’t use Evernote in this way.
I see mobile material texts in this way. Playfully mixing and remixing discrete and occasionally incongruous variables for learning effect. Many more examples to choose from, but let me move on. The second term I will take direct from my supervisor’s thesis (rather than try to paraphrase it).
Hypomnemata: Not A Hypnotic State of Thinking you are a Piñata (I checked)
The second key concept used as a framework is described by Foucault in an interview with Paul Rabinow as the “hypomnemata”, and is derived from writings from ancient Greece about a system for recording life events as material memory or as an externalising process which gave the writer a repository of the “self” on which to draw in times of stress or change (Foucault, 1984, pp.364-365). Giddens echoes this with his conception of “ontological security” (1991)…
Whatever it might be, ‘ontological security’ is, for lack of a better term, an awesome academic phrase. So, this metaphor juxtaposes itself against the palimpsest (not entirely) by looking more for security and stability than ephemerality. It makes for a nice balance between perpetual experimentation in learning and records to position oneself against. For mobile material essays, I see blogging and/or long-form creation (and this includes multimedia constructions) to be wonderful ‘positioning statements’ in which to refer in moments of stress, great change, or shifts in perception and identity (ie, all the time). So, we construct these things collectively (Encyclopedias, Histories, Dictionaries, Maps, etc.) and we construct them personally (Cabinets of Curiosities, Scrapbooks, Blogs, etc.) to record and presumably reflect upon at a later stage. Otherwise, what is the point?
So with mobile, this recording and preserving can be used to gauge learning by using the hypomnemata as a benchmark. Which we more or less do now. If you are a long-term social media user, go back to your earliest post on Facebook or the first image you uploaded on Flickr or your first blog post and cringe. Literally, cringe. In case anyone despairs about the lack of significant progress one has achieved in a recent timeframe, go back and look at your first blog post and rest easy knowing that at least your writing has improved. Mine certainly has.
So these metaphors help me position mobile creation/authorship in a particular light, as serving one or both of these ephemeral/stable masters, both necessary for learning. Academically, these mobile material texts can take the academic shape of any of the following:
- Positioning statements
- Conversation starters
- Framing/scoping exercises
- Art or creative works