It’s true, by using the internet our memory is now effectively infinite. We can record appointments, birthdays, photos, videos of family events, comments, and store them all forever. We can access all these memories on any device, any time , anywhere.
He went on to say that everything that has ever been known is recorded and you can find it online. Which is only partially true; there is no image of my grandmother online, she died before I was born and there are only about four people alive who can confirm I look like her – this knowledge is not online. There is a record of my father’s parents online – but the date of their marriage is wrong by about 50 years (making all their children born out of wedlock).
Not everything known is codified, recorded and online; and not everything online is correct.
It is true that common questions can be answered with a dozen keystrokes. Midnight, wine-fueled debates on which is colder Beijing or Edinburgh or who makes the best wine are shorter and duller – some whizz-kid will pull out his smart phone and google the question; game over. Our perfect infinite memory may be the ultimate conversation killer.
In contrast, also in London, I saw an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum called Memory Palace. The exhibition imagines what it would be like to walk into a book; the book imagines a future London when the internet has been destroyed by a “digital storm” and structured knowledge is lost. A vision in which the book’s hero tries to recreate memory. Words turn out to be a code, knowledge loses it’s value and in the end human memory is lost.
The exhibition ends by giving you the opportunity to contribute the one memory, just one. As if there may not be room for all our memories, no way to hold all that knowledge, and no way to codify the emotion.
Even with the theoretical infinity of the internet recording our memories; the result is imperfect and vulnerable.
Post Script; If you’re in London take the time to visit the exhibition – it’s brilliantly done, by a group of artists who were each given one passage from the book to inspire their artwork. You can see some of the artists talking about their work on the exhibition website; here’s one describing one of my favourite pieces in the exhibition.