Saturday, 13 January 2007

Memory, Loss and Value

I spent this morning putting my entire academic history into a small box.

It's part of the tortuous ongoing preparations for Marie and I to move in with my mum, for a whole bunch of reasons. It's been a great process so far.

As I sorted through the flotsam and jetsam of my school years, I thought about memory, loss and value.

Some of this stuff was vaguely in my mind, yet rediscovering it was like finding hidden treasure. Why is that?

I also found some of my old history notes. Since high school, I've found out I'm descended from royalty on both sides of my family - one legitimately, one not. I wondered to myself, "would I have paid more attention in studying, say, Charlemagne, if I knew he was my great-great-great... etc. grandfather?" Probably not.

I didn't get so passionately interested in family history until I faced a shaking of all other foundations in my life a few years ago. I needed roots, I needed some sense of belonging. And the "lostness" of the family tree information on both sides just made it all the more important to get hold of.

I heard an interview on NPR's On the Media about Life Logging, which is apparently becoming more and more do-able and affordable by the minute. Although the big challenge seems to be managing the stacks of information for easy access - which is the same problem with non-virtual memory.

It makes you think - or makes me think, anyway - about the nature of memory and whether such a function could be literally outsourced. What would happen? Would it free up our brains for something more useful? Or would it be just another machine-dependence? The NPR piece pointed out that already as a culture we don't know phone numbers anymore, we just enter them once into our mobile and never need to remember them.

Anyway my point... I think ... was that the problem, and perhaps the solution, with memory is that we forget what we know. Our short term memory just doesn't seem to have too much capacity, and maybe that's a good thing. Maybe rediscovery is one of the keys to joy in life.

Or maybe I just need some sleep! :)

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