Friday, November 17, 2006
Gordon Bell, a computer scientist, is attempting to preserve every detail of his life . 'His goal,' says Clive Thompson of Fast Company, 'is never to forget anything.' He has designed software called, with distressing banality, MyLifeBits which, has so far collected more than 101,000 emails, almost 15,000 Word and PDF documents, 99,000 Web pages, and 44,000 pictures. 'It gives you kind of a feeling of cleanliness," says Bell, 'I can offload my memory. I feel much freer about remembering something now. I've got this machine, this slave, that does it.' This reminds (!) me of two things. The first is an odd character called Greg Ryker whom I encountered on the Microsoft campus when I interviewed Bill Gates in 1995. Ryker was working on what he called the 'wallet PC' which would record every detail of a life. He was testing the idea with a Psion organiser and a voice recorder. This aspiration to record every moment, rather than let it be lost in time's capacious maw, plainly stems from a fear of death, a fear that the world which is your and yours only will be lost forever. But, like immortality, infinite memory has serious shortcomings. The second thing I am reminded (!) of is the magnificent story Funes, the Memorious by Jorge Luis Borges. As a result of a brain injury, Funes can forget nothing. 'In effect, Funes not only remembered every leaf on every tree of every wood, but even every one of the times he had perceived or imagined it.' Funes is overcome by detail. He finds it hard to imagine how a creature seen at one moment is the same as a creature seen at another and that both can be called 'dog'. Realising all this, the narrator is 'benumbed by the fear of multiplying superfluous gestures', knowing each would add to the irreducible clutter of Funes' infinite memory. What Funes knew, and Gordon and Greg do not, is that to forget nothing is also to remember nothing. Read the Borges and note the placing of this line, 'The equivocal clarity of dawn penetrated along the earthen patio.' Genius beyond the dreams of technocrats.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:56 am