Friday, May 16, 2008

The Great Forgetting

Op-Ed Columns from David Brooks of the NYTimes may not seem topical, but a recent column addressed what he described as "The Great Forgetting." Brooks seems to believe the next century will be defined by how our memories adapt to information overload:

Society is now riven between the memory haves and the memory have-nots. On the one side are these colossal Proustian memory bullies who get 1,800 pages of recollection out of a mere cookie-bite. They traipse around broadcasting their conspicuous displays of recall as if quoting Auden were the Hummer of conversational one-upmanship. On the other side are those of us suffering the normal effects of time, living in the hippocampically challenged community that is one step away from leaving the stove on all day.

This divide produces moments of social combat. Some vaguely familiar person will come up to you in the supermarket. “Stan, it’s so nice to see you!” The smug memory dropper can smell your nominal aphasia and is going to keep first-naming you until you are crushed into submission.

I suppose Brooks' sprinkling in of medical jargon helps legitimize the piece, but the article reads more like one man's rant against aging rather than a serious rumination on the nature of memory. Still, it raises the interesting point that some of us will adapt better to these new streams of information than others. Is it possible that society will increasingly segregate based on memory abilities? Doubtful, although some may argue that this has already and has always happened in civilization. My personal belief is that we will either adapt to the technology, or the technology will adapt to us, so in either case, the relative hierarchy of society will be maintained. Hm, what was this post about again?

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