Saturday, July 5

Here are some notes about writing and things, copied here so that maybe I will remember to turn them into something. They are a mess, but there is the seed of a pretty decent essay somewhere here.


The mechanisms, the mechanics, of human memory are amazing, wonderful, often beautiful things. anyone who has ever really talked to a grandparent, read homer, or found themselves lost in a recollection more powerful than any immediate reality knows that they are capable of supremely difficult things. The accomplishments and failures, as well as the joys and sorrows, of any human life are bound up in the properties of memory - not only the power to recall, but the power to forget - are the shapers of our lives
If speech is our species' most unique power, the degree and depth of our communication what most truly sets us apart from a biosphere that gave us birth, then stored language is the forge, the womb, the seed, the nexus of civilization.
  • stored, not by def written - oral stuff is important; so is general message passing, digital stuff, beads on string, whatever

History is a discipline and a craft which has too often forgotten this, where literature and art and plain storytelling have not.

(To-do lists, calendars, and address books - the whole set of harried businessman's often halfassed tools canonized by the design of every PDA - are an acknowledgment of this on the most mundane level.)

Nelson is right - we need better tools, and the methods for using them. Both are at hand, or being built as we speak - the tools, it might be said, are more available than the methods, but distinctions blur. What is software but a complex recorded method for using an extraordinarily flexible tool?

(HTML really is an extraordinarily priggish, hierarchical kind of thing to have to write in. It also kicks the living crap out of almost all other existing electronic document formats.)

Our goal should not be to exhaustively document the whole of existence, top to bottom, start to finish - we would become like camcorder happy parents, so endlessly paranoid of missing some precious moment that we forget to live in our children's lives. This is no way to exist. Our goal should be to remember the things which are worth remembering, to forget what needs forgotten.

(here, borrow my state of mind)

This comes more naturally to some people than others; I think a lot of us could use the help.

Correspondence is powerful and always has been. It has self-organizing, self-documenting properties you only really notice when you can look at a lot of it easily. Email does this when you throw big chunks of it at a few simple sort and search functions; it does this doubly because you can read your own messages to others. Boxes full of letters are the same as those dirt-simple unix mailbox files that Pine and mutt read so happily. They are useful the same way old magazines are, because they carry and support context. (This doesn't change the fact that the vast bulk of email is useless.) Paper has vast limitations, but also power - it lasts, like it or not, longer than any cheap digital storage, and requires no specific equipment or algorithm outside human eyes and a brain to decode. Most of what goes on paper is a waste of the stuff, and a tragic one at that - but not so for journals, personal letters, drawings and the like.