Why Memory is Important

I got reminded of this story today.

I also got reminded, via Facebook a few days ago, how much stuff you have to make that’s crap before you get to the good stuff.  We know this from Malcolm Gladwell — that we’re often 10,000 hours of effort away from being really good at anything.  I built five or six labyrinths before that one, none of them oriented to the stars.  And now I’m in a place where there’s blessedly few rocks at all, which makes it difficult to build labyrinths, and where I’m not really supposed to be building them at all.

But it’s still nothing compared with the SunWheel at UMASS Amherst.  And Stonehenge and other archaeoastronomy projects are far more impressive than my little circle, which is already showing its age, just a year or so after I left the school where it was built.  The story is forgotten, I suspect, and the caretakers in that class did not pass the lore on.

One of the things that upsets me is how fragile this digital culture is.  Around 1100 BC, the warriors of Mycenaean Greece faced the challenge of their day, and failed to meet it.  All of the palaces of their culture were destroyed (except maybe the one at Pylos), and the keepers of records died in the the paroxysm of fire and war that brought an end to one of the Mediterranean world’s early and high civilizations.  Greece entered a three-hundred-year-long dark age, and nothing survived of the literature or storytelling from before the fall.  In the 800s BC sometime, a poet traditionally named Homer began telling stories of the wars before the  collapse, but did so using (in part) the tropes and concerns of his own time.

If the power went out for an extended period of time… if the Internet went dark… what would survive? The contents of our public libraries and university libraries?  The contents of our own heads?

I wonder. And I worry.

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