There was once, if museum directors and archeologists are to be trusted, an era known as the Stone Age.
There have been other Ages, marked by mankind’s game-changing technical advancements, including the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Age of Discovery, and the more recent Space Age.
The name that has been given to the current period is The Information Age, but I would suggest that we have passed thru that period, with the rapidity postulated by Moore’s Law, and are in yet another distinct Age.
This age I call The Age of Memory.
The Information Age hasn’t ended, of course. Information has exploded; the genie is long out of the bottle, and more continue to issue forth.
But the ability to corral, crunch or summon information is a function of memory, and is both the advancement and the challenge that we now face.
The plus points of having potentially unlimited memory are obvious.
Our expectation that our devices will retain information, and our willingness to ditch our own memory in return for the instant gratification of certain popular apps, is readily apparent.
If there’s any doubt of that, ask a friend how many phone numbers they can recall of the closest contacts. Many of us need to pause to recall our own!
We are apparently delighted that something, somewhere is keeping a running record of everything we see, touch, hear or purchase.
And why not? It’s much more accurate, and frees up our minds for other things. It speeds up innumerable daily functions and allows a person to accomplish many more things in a day.
Some of those accomplishments even serve a purpose!
The disadvantages of living with unlimited memory are also obvious. Random comments, Tweets, photographs, videos and postings, whether true, partially true or scurrilous have a permanency equalled only by their ubiquity, and can come back to haunt one in ways that were unheard of just a few years ago.
The results of that are being felt now in every area of public life.
Add to that the blazing controversy over abuse of privacy, not to mention the damage caused by hacking and malware, and you have a vivid picture of the ugly face of infinite memory.
But that doesn’t stop us from demanding more.
Memory is valuable. The ancient Egyptians seem to have known this; they carved in granite. We “carve” in pixels.
As computers are reflective of and are a servant to the human mind, it’s interesting that issues of human “organic” memory are also pushing to the forefront in this new Age.
We admire and applaud people who have a robust memory, like that guy who won playing Jeopardy for weeks on end. (Hold on while I Google him… oh yeah, Ken Jennings. He holds the longest Jeopardy winning streak in history. But in 2011, he played a challenge match against supercomputer Watson — and lost.)
Speaking of which, have you noticed that people who don’t automatically turn to Watson, Siri or Alexa for an answer to question are becoming a bit of anomaly?
Alexa! How many people have consulted you today?
In this Age of Memory, threats to human memory are “top of mind”. (See what I did there?)
Nutritional supplements for failing memory function seem to be on a steep growth curve.
The specter of Alzheimer’s disease is a real threat to many people, with whole industries being built on the treatment and housing of men and women who no longer can recall the names of loved ones.
At the same time that many huge corporations are racing to convert their old, paper-based and “legacy” records into a more readily retrievable form, so too are individuals in the world today trying to hold on to their valuable photos and other digital memories, as well as their own “marbles.”
There’s even Memory Foam! Imagine! Foam that can remember! What’ll they think of next?
Memory is one of those parts of being alive that is so commonplace that we don’t notice it. Part of our everyday discourse are inquiries with one another about “do you remember…?”
“Remember that time…?”
“Do you remember where we parked?”
“What was her name?”
The question can be innocent: “dude, do you remember that time in third grade when Randy plugged in his electric guitar and shorted out the whole building?”
Or contentious; “do you really not remember borrowing the keys to my car… REALLY?”
Some questions of memory can be dramatic and life-changing:
“On the night of September 3, were you in the apartment with the deceased?”
“What were you doing with that woman in Chicago, Willie?”
“Where exactly did you bury the treasure, Captain?”
Memory… it’s a commodity that, like bronze, iron, gunpowder, or the printing press, has the potential to help mankind to elevate or destroy itself.
The Age of Memory. Good handle, I think.
Feel free to spread it around. I mean, if you think of it.