Monday, July 18, 2005

Persistence of memory

People used to write letters. I used to write letters. Not so much anymore.

Now that life's documentation is nearly entirely electronic I've developed an anxiety complex about computers and email. On a given day I may be so sentimental as to save every last inconsequential email missive. Or, on another day I may feel strongly that the past is the past, nothing to be done about it, and hit "Delete" repeatedly and with confidence. My feeling on the matter changes daily, which is why I have a derelict desktop computer from 1999 sitting on the floor of my apartment, unused but not-quite-trash.

I have an old email address, which served me for many years but is now rarely checked in on. I only get junk anyway but I have a number of folders containing various communications between me and friends/acquaintances/lovers, some still around, some long gone. I am paralyzed with indecision - do I take the leap and delete the email address, or continue to log in occasionally for trips down memory lane of dubious value? I checked it today, semi-hopeful that 30+ days had passed since last log-in and Hotmail would've made the decision for me, but no, I have not been allowed to shirk responsibility that easily.

I'm not sure what it means that the records of our existence are no longer physical but instead trapped inside clumsy, hopelessly obsolete machines or else floating in some digital soup on a server mainframe lord-knows-where. I'd wager this contributes to the sense of disconnect I, and many people I know, experience regularly. At the very least it saps most of the symbolic portent from communication: one can burn letters, but deleting emails just doesn't elicit the same catharsis. It's a pattern of degradation, in the meaning and value of how we relate to each other, that began with the telephone and continues unabated in the new virtual world. Maybe this is good, maybe a more tenuous hold on the past means that the past will grip us less fiercely, enabling a certain freedom from the dictates of past experience. Maybe it's bad, maybe we're just losing that much more. Maybe it's neither, just another change we'll surely adapt to (though notice how "adapt" and its corrolaries - adaptability, adapter - have taken on electronic connotations in common speech).

In the spirit of ambiguity, here is the body of an email, sent to me long ago by someone I used to be close to. It is actually, I believe, the only email ever sent to me by this person. Many will be familiar with the Edward Lear rhyme. Incidentally, the band Luna included an interpretation on their farewell album, "Rendevouz," released last September. I had forgotten completely about this email. When I read it now, I hear the Luna song; so maybe, even with all the disconnection of the digital age, some conduit of connectedness prevails...

the owl and the pussy cat went to sea in a beautiful
pea green boat
they took some honey and plenty of money wrapped up in
a five pound note
the owl looked up at the stars above and sang on a
small guitar:
"oh lovely pussy, oh pussy my love, what a beautiful
pussy you are, you are, what a beautiful pussy you
pussy said to the owl, "you elegant fowl, how
charmingly sweet you sing! oh let us be married, too
long we have tarried, but what shall we do for a
they sailed away for a year and a day to the land
where the bong tree grows, and there in a wood a piggy
wig stood with a ring on the end of his nose, his
nose, a ring on the end of his nose
"dear pig are you willing to sell for one shilling
your ring?" said the piggy "i will."
so they took it away and were married next day by the
turkey who lives on the hill
they dined on mince and slices of quinces which they
ate with a runcible spoon (a spork)
and hand and hand by the edge of the sand they danced
by the light of the moon, the moon, they danced by the
light of the moon.

possibly the single most romantic story known to man.

1 comment:

Van said...

B possitive my man! If you find email startling, just wait until the use of words becomes obsolete- at long last your degeneration will be complete. We'll be pigs in the wilderness again, snorting and pissing in the garden of eden. Home.