I have been hugely enjoying Tom Chatfield’s recent book, How to Thrive in the Digital Age (2012). Published by Alain de Botton’s School of Life, it is a balanced and thoughtful examination of how, in a world of ever-increasing connectivity and information overload, we can take advantage of the resources of the digital age whilst at the same time retaining our humanity.
A particularly interesting section I’ve just been reading concerns the nature of memory.
In some ways digital memory is superior to human memory: it provides a faithful and objective record of vast quantities of information, can be searched rapidly, does not degrade over time, and can be transferred or copied easily. Seduced by this reliability and objectivity, we are increasingly outsourcing our own memories to digital devices in our everyday lives.
But the trouble with this, says Tom, is that in doing so we run the risk of losing an essential part of our humanity. For us, every memory is embedded in a particular context of thoughts and emotions, in a particular narrative that shapes our identity. Therefore, when we outsource memory, we are in danger of losing our sense of self and disengaging from the rich tapestry of experience that life has to offer. As Tom says:
“…there is no such thing as a human memory that exists outside of thought, feeling and selfhood. What we experience, do and learn becomes part of us. We internalize events, people and ideas; we reflect, change our minds and misremember, possessing our pasts as a continuing part of our present. We cannot outsource our true memories any more than we can outsource our feelings or beliefs – nor can we separate them from ‘us'”.
If you’re interested in engaging Tom Chatfield as a speaker, please contact Leo von Bülow-Quirk at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on 0044 (0) 20 7792 8000.