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The power to remember and the need to forget
Fig 1. Your life? Remembered or forgotten?
Digitally record or better to delete?
It frustrates me to try to read two complementary books e in two different formats – the first is marketed in its traditional hardback edition with a designer cover and eye-grabbing introduction from Bill Gates, while the second, an eBook I find understated – as if it is ashamed to compete. They are a pair. Twins separated at birth. They argue from opposite sides of the digital coin, one in favour of digitizing everything under the sun, the other for circumspection and deletion. Perhaps there should be a face off at the Oxford Union Debating Society. My role here is to bring them together and in doing so provide a one word conclusion: selection.
‘Total Recall’ (Bell and Gemmel, 2009) with its film-reference title and sensationalist headline ‘how the e-memory revolution will change everything’ risks ostracizing a discerning academic readership in favour of sales reputation and coining a phrase or two. It’s hero Gordon Bell might be the protagonist in the movie. The is is shame is that at the heart of what is more biography than academic presentation there is the desire to be taken seriously – a second edition could fix this – there needs to be a sequel. My copy of Total Recall arrived via trans-Atlantic snail mail in hardback, with it’s zingy dust jacket – it feels like a real book. I’m no bibliophile but I wonder if the pages are uncut and this edition has been pulled from a reject pile. It was discounted Amazon and as I’m after the words contained in the book rather than the physical artifact its state ought not to be a concern. Though the fact that it is a physical book rather pegs it to a bygone era. Total recall refers to the idea of a photographic or ‘eidetic memory’ – this needs to be stated.
Fig. 2. DELETE
‘Delete’ (2009) Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is subtitled ‘The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age’ and sounds as if it was authored by a vampire from Transylvania. It is a foil to ‘Total Recall’ with Viktor the antagonist to ‘Flash Drive’ Gordon. Delete hasn’t been – its in its fourth printing, needless to say I got mine in seconds as a Kindle version. I only ever by a book if I have to. I am too used to the affordances of the eBook to skim, search, highlight and share – and to have it on multiple devices, the Kindle, iPad, laptop and smartphone.
The copyright notice in Total Recall on ‘the scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet’ is ironic because this is what Bell does with his life – he has scanned and uploaded his life (though access is totally private). A double irony as he elects for Web 1.0 but won’t join the Semantic Web 2.0 and share.
I have been an exponent of ‘exposure’ – the release of a substantial part of who you are for others to chew over.
The online diary.
The way forward stands between the two, selective extreme gathering, storing and retrieval of your personal archive, while discretely deleting the irrelevant, possibly illegal (copyright, plagiarised, libel) and otherwise potentially reputationally damaging to kith or kin. (How can these be avoided if you wear a device around your neck that takes a digital snap every few seconds?)
They could be landform and landfill.
- Infographic: Who Reads eBooks? (the-digital-reader.com)
- Enjoy Ron Shusett’s Interview with Craft Screenwriting! (lcoonline.wordpress.com)
- Tracker, scanner, detector, spy… (thehindu.com)
- Five Reasons Why You Should See Total Recall (binsidetv.net)
- Google Glass – Interactive Glasses (threekingsclub.wordpress.com)
A fabulous radio drama – in a series of 15 minute episodes: The Diary of Sam Pepys
A fabulous, not to be missed, BBC Radio Drama
Listen this morning and only for a week – the wonderfully evocative, visual radio drama – so good you can smell The Plague in the air.
Laugh out loud.
Soon to be a movie?
But nothing will beat the radio version (ditto ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
10.45am BBC Radio 4
Then on iPlayer for a week
What can we learn about blogging from Samuel Pepys?
On how Pepys kept his diary
Pepys wrote his diary from notes – whether on the day, or weeks later.
What can the blogger learn from this?
I post notes and first drafts then leave them unpublished (usually). Sometimes I post notes with no intention of doing more.
Would four blogs do it?
Or one offline? Keep a notebook or voice record onto a smartphone? I find myself photographing everything.
Whilst diaries have a value in their historical immediacy they are generally far from giving the sense of the living moment. In Pepy’s ‘what is seemingly the most spontaneous and living series of entries in the diary, the long account of the Great Fire, was, as Pepy’s himself states, entered into the diary-book three months or more after the event. He has had a time to consider and reflect, to ‘contextualize’ what took place.
Our impressions change.
I was at a murder trial recently where witness statements written seven years previously were used; they had to be, the defendant had run off back to Africa and only recently extradited. Yet the defendant a huge exception to this, the facts were recalled.
What do I make of this?
Pepy’s prepared loose-leaf notes and wrote his diary upon the day or later, often leaving space to fill.
Anais Nin wrote continually, but typed up copies from the manuscript and had a hand in editing the volumes before they were published.
Henry Miller drew on his experiences in the Mid 20s to mid 30’s in New York and Paris to write his autobiographical fiction. My own diary, like some I have read, like ‘belles lettres’ or essays are (is) often a dry logbook-like record of events as they take place. They are a satisfactory record but do nothing to have ‘no sense of the moment.’
And how should I react?
Should I make, take and keep notes then write it all up at the weekend?
Pepys composed his diary in five stages:
- Accumulation of bills, minutes, official papers, news books and rough notes on a day’s proceedings.
- Gathering of these into a form which combined accounts with diary-style notes.
- Entering of the account and business matters into the appropriate manuscript/books, and the first revision of the general entries which were intended for the final manuscript.
- Entry of these notes into the diary-book (with care and over time), adapted to the space.
- Reading over the entries that had been made shortly before, making small corrections and stylistic improvements and inserting some further details at the ends of paragraphs and entries.’
From W. Matthews, ‘Introduction to Pepys Diaries II, ppcii
Where does this leave me?
And the blogger?
With a system?
Four books (four books as Anais Nin imagined ideal), more chosen titles being diary, dream book, notebook and scrapbook.
The diary, the ‘ivre d’or’, would be assembled on a sometimes daily, sometimes weekly (even monthly) basis
The dream book from early morning jottings put through a question and answer session on a Word Processor (an Amstrad in 1986)
A notebook (such as this), a journal of notes, extracts comment and ideas – not on the day’s events but for academic (or self-intellectual reason); and scrapbook to preserve relevant cuttings kept from the day (week or month) or world events, goings on, points and pictures of interest – possibly with the option to include my own scribblings.
Online (a decade later) I have too many platforms:
Flickr, Tumblr, YouTube, Blip.foto, Blogger, Diaryland … Several blogs on WordPress of course and my OU Student Blog on their platform.
If these four books couldn’t preserve an accurate record of my age what could?
A camcorder strapped permanently to my shoulder?
William Matthews goes on to say what makes a good diary and what makes a bad one.
‘Almost all diaries that give genuine and protracted pleasure to an ordinary reader do so because the diarists possessed, instinctively or by training, some of the verbal, intellectual and emotional talents that characterise the novelist. Diaries are not novels; they are bound to reality, with its deplorable habit of providing excellent story situations and so artistically satisfactory ends.’
But also the man, Pepys, because of his variety of amateur interests had a passion for life which sustains a diary which requires a rich weave of activity if it is to remain interesting.
‘Pepys was a typical 17th century virtuoso, a man who justified himself by the diversity of his interests.’
W.M. Pepys VI, ‘Diary as literature, ppCxii
‘His literary instinct led Pepys to relate a story excitingly whenever the materials gave him the chance … diaries bring a reader closer to human actuality than any other form of writing. As life-records they present a natural disorder and emphasis which is artfully rearranged in biography, and so somewhat corrupted. As self-delineations they deal directly with people and events which in the novel are subjected to the stresses and conventions of art and design. And in many ways they are the most natural and instinctive product of the art of writing.’ (W.M. Pepys Vol 1, ppCXii)
‘And so to bed’. Learn to blog with Samuel Pepys and this wonderful BBC dramatisation of his diaries
This first episode is a wonderful interplay between domestic and civil life, the prospect of joining the ship that will fetch the King from exile, while the ‘wench’ who works for them refuses to kill the turkey they’ve been feeding up because it’s her friend.
On the 1st of January 1660, the 26 year old Samuel Pepys decides to start keeping a diary.
How many of us have begun on the 1st of January never to get beyond the month? Or choose to pick it up again after an absence. Don’t let this be an excuse, start now. What did you have for breakfast? And if that’s too mundane what’s you solution to the debt crisis?
In the first episode Pepys is behind with his rent, he gets drunk and both he and his wife wish for a family. Pepys reflects on the great events of the 17th century but he also tells us what people ate, wore, what they did for fun, the tricks they played on each other, what they expected of marriage, and of love affairs.
In this episode some house guests play a game after dinner called ‘Getting Married’. By all accounts it sounds like a 17th century invitation to do some wife-swapping.
This BBC radio drama is on every day at 10.45 and again in the evening at 19.45. Episode 2 today.
You can follow Samuel Pepys on Twitter. You get regular 140 characters or less updates.
Read his diary, offered on a the basis of ‘on this day 350 years ago.’
Nothing’s changed much, the most important things in our life are loves, family and friends.
Our lives may touch on the politics and events of the time, they may not. Pepys got through the restoration of the King, Plague and the Fire of London.
He so often ends is entry with, ‘and so to bed’.
This reflects the typical keeper of a written diary, you tend to use the evening to catch up. I have to wonder if he had given up the diary he may have produced some children. I stopped keeping a diary on getting engaged after 16 years of writing – I had better things to do in bed than prop myself up on one and scribble secret notes into a hardback book. In any, there is no longer a best time to ‘blog,’ Twitter like you can post an entry whenever you like, as the events unfold or as a thought crosses your mind.
For radio for boring bits have been left out; it therefore reads like a novel.
Not a recommended style for these pages, but great for an external blog in WordPress (HERE), Blogger or LiveJournal. Or my favourite, Diaryland.