Nostalgia No. 3, Ma Leonn, 2006
Throughout the 20th Century, the preservation of individuals’ memories became cheaper and so more ubiquitous, but it wasn’t until the last decade that the seamless interconnection of mobile recording devices with the world wide web allowed for the retention of the past almost in its entirety.
It is well over a decade now since the philosopher Jean Baudrillard began arguing that reality itself had been fundamentally altered by a highly mediatised world – indeed, that there was no objective reality anymore, only a reproducible simulacrum, the nature of which is determined by large-scale corporations and their allied governments.
But the world of photo-messaging and Facebook, of YouTube and Google, is not one defined by the manipulation of the masses alone – rather, it is conjured up by the digitations of the great mass of individuals.
Perhaps the reason I feel quite so liberated from the present while more and more attached, not to individually-recalled “good old days”, but to a collectively attested and ever-present past, is because the hard drive of my computer is overloaded with digital images of the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met, all of them time-coded to a 10th of a second. There are also audio files of conversations I’ve had, and an email trail leading back to 1996 comprised of many, many thousands of ephemeral traces.
In this brave old world, I can employ a few keystrokes and so correlate my personal recollection of what was happening on that day, at that very hour, with public events in Birmingham, Bratislava or Beijing.
Because of this, it seems to me that in the past decade or so, the half-life of our memories has become artificially extended. Instead of curling photographs and yellowing newspapers, we are possessed of a shiny and permanent now, one we flit-click about and so delude ourselves as to our own eternal youth – until, that is, we look down at the wrinkled and liver-spotted hands that rest on the keyboard.