>E-memory and Meat Memory

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As we move towards a “paperless society” and migrate our data to the computer and the Internet, we can find personal profiles, resumes, photos, videos, emails, documents, presentations, news items, scanned copies of diplomas and awards, contact lists, and even financial, tax, and property records.

People have so much information on the web (and their hard drive) these days that they fear one of two things happening:

  1. Their hard drive will crash and they will lose all their valuable information.
  2. Someone will steal their data and their identity (identity theft)

For each of these, people are taking various precautions to protect themselves such as backing up their data and regularly and carefully checking financial and credit reports.

Despite some risks of putting “too much information” out there, the ease of putting it there, and the convenience of having it there—readily available—is driving us to make the Internet our personal storage device.

One man is taking this to an extreme. According to Wired Magazine (September 2009), Gordon Bell is chronicling his life—warts and all—online. He is documenting his online memory project—MyLifeBits—in a book, called Total Recall.

“Since 2001, Bell has been compulsively scanning, capturing and logging each and every bit of personal data he generates in his daily life. The trove includes Web Sites he’s visited (22,173), photos taken (56,282), docs written and read (18,883), phone conversations had (2,000), photos snapped by SenseCam hanging around his neck (66,000), songs listened to (7,139) and videos taken by (2,164). To collect all this information, he uses a staggering assortment of hardware: desktop scanner, digicam, heart rate monitor, voice recorder, GPS logger, pedometer, Smartphone, e-reader.”

Mr. Bell’s thesis is that “by using e-memory as a surrogate for meat-based memory, we free our minds to engage in more creativity, learning, and innovation.”

Honestly, with all the time that Bell spends capturing and storing his memories, I don’t know how he has any time left over for anything creative or otherwise.

Some may say that Gordon Bell has sort of an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)—you think? Others that he is some sort of genius that is teaching the world to be free and open to remembering—everything!

Personally, I don’t think that I want to remember “everything”. I can dimly remember some embarrassing moments in elementary school and high school that I most sure as heck want to forget. And then there are some nasty people that would be better off buried in the sands of time. Also, some painful times of challenge and loss—that while may be considered growth experiences—are not something that I really want on the tip of my memory or in a file folder on my hard drive or a record in a database.

It’s good to remember. It’s also sometimes good to forget. In my opinion, what we put online should be things that we want or need to remember or access down the road. I for one like to go online every now and then and do some data cleanup (and in fact there are now some programs that will do this automatically). What I thought was worthwhile, meaningful, or important 6 months or a year ago, may not evoke the same feelings today. Sometimes, like with purchases I made way back when, I think to myself, what was I thinking when I did that? And I quickly hit the delete key (wishing I could do the same with those dumb impulse purchases!). Most of the time, I am not sorry that I did delete something old and I am actually happy it is gone. Occasionally, when I delete something by accident, then I start to pull my hair out and run for the backup—hoping that it really worked and the files are still there.

In the end, managing the hard drive takes more work then managing one’s memories, which we have little conscious control over. Between the e-memory and the meat memory, perhaps we can have more of what we need and want to remember and can let go and delete the old and undesired one—and let bygones be bygones.

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