Tuesday, September 8, 2009
A brief thought on forms of memory.
If we can say that there is a time (say, the first two centuries after the Norman Conquest in England) when collective and individual memory shifted from being recorded aurally to written record. And that this involved not just a change of habits and accepted forms (though those are not to be underestimated in their effects on society) but a fundamental change in the way individual memories were shaped from childhood to be used, and therefore the capacity of each individual (generally speaking) to record and retain certain types of information. Then what are we to make of the current shift from the written to the digital, to the tendency to carry most information around on an external hard drive? More to the point, what will historians and sociologists make of it in a century or two? If, you know, we still exist by then.
Also, the change to written record had an obvious and fundamental effect on what information and how much of it is likely to survive to the next generations. The methods and platforms with which electronic information can be accessed are far more susceptible to change. Floppy disc, USB, bluetooth? Will we be able to access daily and personal records in ten years, or only the official ones that have been perforce updated as time went by? And how will this affect our perception of the past? Particularly as digitised information may prove to be more or less democratic than the book - potentially more generally and easily accessible, but literacy becomes even more essential and more complex, and more monolingual at that. The book is more lasting than the spoken word, but will the row of 0s and 1s be more or less enduring, and access to it more or less restricted by social parameters?