May CommQuote

This month’s quote is brought to us by Abby Smith Rumsey‘s WE ARE NO MORE: HOW DIGITAL MEMORY IS SHAPING OUR FUTURE (Bloomsbury Press, 2016).  Notes Paul Saffo,9781620408025 Consulting Professor, Stanford University School of Engineering, “Rumsey takes us on a lucid and deeply thought-provoking journey into what makes the human species unique–the capacity to create external memory. This book will change how you think about our collective store of knowledge, and its future.”

“And so it is with our artificial memory. The more fragile the medium, the more redundancy we need. Nothing we have invented so far is as fragile as digital data. We began our attempt to cheat death by creating mighty artifacts of clay, stone, paper, and parchment that outperformed our memory by hundreds and thousands of years. Now we create storage media that maximize volume, not durability. The Sumerian scribes looking down on us from their imaginary perch in space-time would be surprised at how far we have gotten in documenting the world and its many transactions over time, how far beyond accounting, epics, and prayers we have extended the memory of humanity, and how many people can read, write, and circulate their ideas across the globe instantaneously. They would marvel at the trade-offs we so lightly make between volume and durability. But we may not have to make such trade-offs forever. We are entering now into an experiment with memory that was not even imaginable until a few decades ago–to take the first, most compact, and most enduring form of memory, the DNA molecule, and encode it with digital data…” –p. 162