The Memory of Feeling is Not Feeling: "Memory Sticks" Explores Human Computers

At what point does the use of technology dimish your humanity? Wood Ingham gets deep into the human-computer interface in his new novella Memory Sticks.

A few months ago, Wood Ingham joined with authors Will Hindmarch and Chuck Wendig, to form an on-line writer's collective known as Jet-Pack. Although initially connected by their work for RPG publisher White Wolf, the three authors' flash fiction and short stories revealed a series of off-kilter realities and glossy dystopian futures. Ingham's Memory Sticks originally appeared on Jet-Pack as a serialized story about a young woman, named Sarah whose transient memories seem largely dictated by the implanted computer that sometimes controls her brain. Collected into novella form, it becomes a meditation on the line between technology and humanity, and what happens when the line becomes far too blurred.

The story takes place in a near-future that is plausibly two or three decades away. Though not central to the plot, it is apparent that some highly advanced neurosurgery involving nanobots is required for brain implanted computers to work properly. These aren't just computers inside someone's brain, though — the procedure makes the brain into a computer, giving the system access to memory and personality.

Sarah is a young woman who underwent implantation for her job as a reporter and editor. She has a hard time remembering her real name, since she almost always goes by her callsign, ALIS. ALIS can compose, edit and upload articles just by thinking about it; she works while riding the train, while eating breakfast, and while having sex. She never sleeps, just drops into "passive mode."

Most of her co-workers have no idea who she is because they spend all day tranced out and connected to the network. Social interaction is almost all via text message or network update. Every conversation is like the disjointed hell of an Internet chatroom. Her only real relationship is a sham. The true horror of ALIS' semi-artificial existence is revealed by the reaction of the "normal" humans who encounter her: a mix of revulsion and fascination that leaves her at one point crying out to herself, "I'm not a robot!"

Ingham's prose is tight and plain, presenting even the most emotional scenes in a raw, unadorned manner that only emphasizes their true impact. The somewhat experimental style of ALIS/Sarah's conversations effectively conveys the weirdness of her constant internal and external dialogue. It's a heavy story, bright yet bleak, about artificiality, corporate slavery and human memory. It's also about nostalgia for who we were and regret over what we've had to become to make our way through the world.

Memory Sticks is available in both pdf and print, and Wood Ingham will be promoting it via a small book launch at the Crunch in Swansea, Wales on August 20th if you happen to be in the area.