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Of collective memory - Ċensu Galea

Several years ago, a then prominent Labour politician had said that “people forget everything, after the passage of six months”. Whether this is true or not, I dare say, depends on us all.

This brings me to the point of collective memory. Out of the many definitions that one could possibly quote, I mention two definitions. The first is indicated as “the ability of a community to remember events”. The second is “the collection of memories shared by a common culture”. 

I will focus on the first definition. 

Our memory, both individually and collectively, depends on the way we tend to look at things. There are events which might be very important to certain individuals, but irrelevant to others. There are events which we tend to forget a few minutes after we came across them.

On the contrary, then, there are events which we will never forget. Yet does it in a way imply that the events which we, personally, never forget, will be the same as those which will be remembered by others? Probably this is not the case.

One important question that has to be answered with regards to the ability to remember events is: what makes us remember or forget? Are there any exterior factors that will help us in either of these abilities? Are we influenced by what is reported, or by what we encounter on the modern social media? From what is happening around us I would dare say that we are definitely influenced by what others want us to remember or forget.

If this were not the case we would not be living the Cambridge Analytica experience. We would not have found ourselves exposed to such interference in our daily life. Whatever was done in this case was intended to interfere with the way we think, decide and act. Otherwise we would not have had our information collected and analysed.

The more we forget, the less complete and correct will be our collective memory. This makes it easier for us all to be misled into the wrong decisions

I have personally lived experiences where certain negative comments are repeated several times, by individuals who are related or connected to each other, who repeat the same sentence or post the same picture, to make people believe that many share the same experience.

I have had occasions where fake profiles were used to repeat such statements. Many of those who read such statements would not know the connections between certain individuals, and are, for this reason influenced by the misinformation that is posted.

In this case, people are influenced to get a distorted ‘collective memory’. We will be influenced to believe certain statements which are nothing but the result of these people’s bad intentions. Whether it is a photo or a few words, we can make people believe things which are outright lies. 

In Malta, I feel that this tool of distortion is being used by certain sectors of the local media. Recently I have had many more occasions to follow news items on our TV stations. The attempts to influence us is there for all to notice. The slants which are given to particular news items exposes the real intention of those who relay them to the public. 

Yet, I dare ask the question: how many of us realise this? 

In this day and age, when all of us are immersed in our daily routines, it is hard to hear, listen and analyse what we all hear. We all get hold of a first impression and go on to the next without much thought. This is an ideal and fertile ground for those who want us to be influenced.

Sometimes important news items are left to the very end... when most people are already fed up. On the other hand, less important news items are covered in a way that is really exhaustive.

The same line of thought is used in certain newspapers.

My thinking was somehow confirmed in the Times of Malta editorial (April 12). Here I quote: “The government is willing to use the local media and to abuse it with its fairy tale spins but is not willing to protect it. In its eyes, the media is just a tool, never the ‘fourth pillar of democracy’, and nothing to do with human rights.”

This statement is a strong one, and one which makes it important for us all, not to forget. The moment we forget we will be made to pay the price of our forgetting. 

This brings me back to the point of ‘collective memory’. The more we forget, the less complete and correct will be our collective memory. This makes it easier for us all to be misled into the wrong decisions.

With this in mind we have to make sure that we remember, and learn from past experiences. Otherwise we may end up living the very same experiences, which made us suffer for so long.

It is our duty not to forget.

Ċensu Galea is a former Nationalist Cabinet minister.

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