A Reading Note

In The Library at Night, Manguel muses on a future in which the web’s penchant for forgetting means we lose all connections to the past:

Since electronic technology is present in all our fields of leisure and labour, we think of it as all-reaching, and speak of it as if it were to replace every other technology, including the technology of books. Our future paperless society, defined by Bill Gates in a paper book, is a society without history, since everything on the web is instantly contemporary; for writers, for example, thanks to our word processors, there is no archive of our notes, hesitations, developments and drafts….We no longer record the evolution of our intellectual creations. To a future observer, it will appear that our ideas were born fully developed, like Athena from her father’s brow—except that, since our historical vocabulary will be forgotten, the cliché will mean nothing.

Manguel, The Library at Night, page 226

I’ve written of the web’s short-term memory before; what Manguel trips on here is that such forgetting is by design. We designed tools to forget, sometimes intentionally so, but often simply out of carelessness. And we are just as capable of designing systems that remember: the word processor of today may admit no archive, but what of the one we build next?

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