Indexed Collective Memory

One of the many benefits of modern search engines is how they index our collective memory. Historically, if you remembered bits and pieces of information about something, to find out more, you’d have to ask around to learn more about the thing– like it’s actual name. A few examples stick out in my mind.

A while ago, I was thinking of a film I’d seen as a teenager where one of the rabid generals insisted after a nuclear strike that we needed to “cut off the head of the Soviet chicken”. I remember liking James Earl Jones’ character. Back in the day, the only way to figure out more about that movie was to ask people who might know more about it than you. And for obscure 90s made-for-TV content, good luck with that. Now, a quick Google search reveals that it’s called “By Dawn’s Early Light” and that James Earl Jones was nominated for an Emmy for “Outstanding Supporting Actor” for that role.

And just the other day, I was reminded of a short story by Isaac Asimov I’d read in middle school. I remembered something about some bees or ants asking a telepathic kid “when… when… when…”. Asimov is the sort of writer with devotees who could probably quickly name the story and provide some detailed critical analysis. But all I had to do was search “when when when” and “Asimov” and the first result tipped me off to its title, “Potential”.

“When-When-When-?” thought the bee.
“Not yet-Not yet-Not yet-” thought Roland.
First, he had to reach his potential.

Not being able to remember something sometimes lodges itself into my brain, bothering me intermittently until the mystery is revealed. I’m happy I live in an age where so much information is so well indexed that those wisps of memory can accrete into a happy recollection with a click. Then again, the old way, every so often you’d ask someone if they remembered some obscurity and you’d each revel in your combined recollection. Now, it’s dismissed with a quick skim of a summary and a subtle nod, relegated to the back of your brain to lurk until its next surfacing.

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