Data Loss/On Living without history
A recent trip saw me losing a memory card with over 60 GB of photos and snippets of the internet I found interesting, along with other media whose existence I do not remember now. I would've assumed that my first reaction would be panic and beating myself for not having proper backups but my stance has been one of relief: What I do not know, I cannot miss. This brings the volume of data consumed and generated by me in the process and a reflection of history to a greater prospect.
We are generating data at a pace greater than any point before in human history, with our collective dossiers piling up in the server farms of internet companies and dusty hard drives at our homes. Our memories are now secure in storage devices that we often can pull up a certain past from photos and texts, where re-imagining our life stories without hard skeletal evidence almost becomes a thing of disbelief.
Certain histories must be forgotten, in particular, if they're the boring and the mundane to let us color the voids we left in the pastels of our vantage today. Harsher realities can also get a fluid makeover to give a dramatic tuning to our past which might be hard to do with reminders of exact happenings of events. A common belief is that the internet remembers everything, but will it remember everything forever? It seems to be improbable, what incentive will for-profit corporations have for sustaining our digital selves into perpetuity? Neither do we have any incentive to do the archival on our own. Will having a complete record of the past help us live in the present? The diaries of our forepeople gather dust in termite city, with an odd page or two finding their fifteen minutes of fame during a lazy news cycle.
This leads to a bigger question, what if we did not look at data as the things we've created on paper and in our heads but also the things that invade our physical spaces, something we see as being more absolute. Aren't 5000-year-old ruins of a city, the statues of a Stalinist leader, or temples and mosques of national importance have the same value as individual memories of ourselves? Aren't our associations with them as absurd as the random clicks that line the profits of a mega-corporation? Can we imagine a world where are pre-histories no longer define us, where our memories are malleable by immediate happenings – would it also mean a resurfacing of all the horrors of the past? Burn all books, destroy all the monuments, go back to the glory of the Stone Age, there's nothing to worry about here as there's nothing to remember. Waking up in such a world would be confusing, where we have to start from scratch again and perhaps endure pestilence and the capacity to interact with the world. Will it give us a deeper connection with our surroundings and distance ourselves from the anthropocentric worldview we've become comfortable with?
Another question is who will have the power to destroy our shared pasts and histories and what agendas will drive them. It shouldn't be motivated by politics but by idealism, where voices with an emotional attachment to memory should be coddled by the hard actions of transition. Another debate will be about what should be erased, would our weapons go, and everything we know about the world? A new start will give us possibilities that we do not know exist yet and with that comes the fear of the new. The 60 GB is out in vapor for now, I go on to generate more data including this piece and if there's any history to destroy, perhaps starting with this essay is a good idea.