Internet, Archive, and Forgetfulness

I am by no means an expert on the history of mnemonics, but it has always interested me to see how growth in literacy has tended to cause a corresponding decline in the practise of memory, as people become more and more content to have the written word remember for them, to replace their memories with archives. There is something to be said for this arrangement, of course, since writing allows us to recall and transmit far more knowledge with far more efficiency than even the most highly trained memory ever could, but writing also permits us the luxury of a peculiar forgetfulness, where we need not know what we can find in the archive, and we need not find it if we would rather remain forgetful, for reasons of politics or expediency or even sheer laziness.

The rise of the technologies that are commonly called the internet are pushing this relationship between archive and forgetfulness to even further extremes, because we know submit everything to the archive — our photographs are on Pinterist or Flickr; our videos are on YouTube or Vimeo; our lives are journaled on Facebook or in our blogs; our correspondence is stored in our email accounts; even our water-cooler gossip is preserved on Twitter. This capacity for archiving ourselves, however, has been accompanied by an equal capacity to be forgetful of ourselves. We have recorded our lives, but we have not remembered them, have not understood them, have not told their stories, and so we no longer know ourselves, or if we do, we know ourselves very differently, as media creations that we no longer recognize as ourselves.

This is not what the internet must mean, of course, because the internet can be made to mean other things, but for many people this is what the internet has in fact come to mean: both total archive and total forgetfulness.

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