Keep it in the ground

London

I think most people write because they don’t want to sleepwalk through life. Writing is a means of keeping memories alive. If you don’t record, paint or obsessively photograph or film every living moment, then why are you even here?

I write to stay alive as you forget what matters otherwise. That’s the one thing that scares me the most. Not being able to remember my stories for better or worse. I also want to keep a record of my changing. I am always changing.

School years are easy to remember if your parents keep hold of your jotters, paintings and teacher reports. Thereafter you have landmark birthdays with complementing photographs, graduation days and long hot summers doing nothing at all. Memories feel more tangible when your everyday life is administered year by year.

Only now I find months and years morph anonymously into a cloudy void. This year doesn’t feel any different than the previous four. I’m sure plenty of things have happened, but for some reason I barely notice the difference. Perhaps amnesia has set in prematurely because I’ve lived in the same flatshare for five years.

East London Bedroom

Living as a layman in East London doesn’t provide much visual stimulation either. I’m sure the past few years would have been more memorable if I had gone backpacking in Chile or married a blonde jazz singer in Melbourne.

Alas, when I wake up in the morning there is no orchestral soundtrack accompanying my footsteps to the bathroom. My laptop screensaver is the same as the year before. Pulling open my black Primark curtains I see the same tattered plastic bag swinging from the communal birch tree every day.

Blogging provides a subjective personal history, and it’s a necessary one if you want to join up the dots. Skipped behind my bookcase lies a collection of diaries and notebooks I have curated over the years. With literary quotes squashed in the margins, I keep filling them out and dumping them alongside their older colleagues. A scrapheap of memories no one will ever read.

If I am lucky enough to have a family of my own, they’ll eventually be boxed and kept upstairs in an oak wooden loft. Maybe they’ll be sparingly reopened for an old quote or a nostalgic rummage through the past. Only to be put back in their place again, a handwritten contract with a young man that no longer exists.

Aberdeenshire Pictish Symbol

Before I longed for a written legacy I remember being assigned a primary school project to recreate the standing stones of the Picts (an ancient warrior tribe in northern Scotland). The Romans called them the ‘Painted People’ because of their elaborate monstrous tattoos embroidered on their chests. On building Hadrian’s Wall in 128 AD, the Romans essentially formed an ideological frontier that stated civilisation lay down south.

Just like the Picts, we express our stories in equally vivid and complex ways, but I don’t think any of my A.I descendants will be recreating any of my blog tales.

Electromagnetic Pulse

My skipped diaries are physical reminders of my narcissistic desire to be exhibited just like the Picts. While stone circles remain visible, our digital archives could easily be wiped out by a nuclear inspired electromagnetic pulse (EMP).

Electrical magnetic storms have the ability to destroy our civilisation just like fire pulped the ancient scrolls of Alexandria Library. A world without Wi-Fi would be nasty, brutish and short. Don’t try and order a pizza on your iPhone when it happens.

Internet Dsytopia

Bit rot – the slow deterioration of data software such as floppy discs may render our digital civilisation useless to future historians. Cloud-based services are worthless if technology moves so fast that you can’t even open them. Unlike calfskin vellum’s and hardback books our collective knowledge requires constant software upgrades just to remain accessible.

Augmented Reality

While it probably isn’t a tragedy if my ex-girlfriends emails are unable to be read by future generations. I still want to keep them alive somehow. By taking one glance at them you hear the voice of another person, someone still alive but lost forever.

Writing to me is one of the greatest human inventions, holding us all together, providing an emotional bond with the dead, living and unborn.

Biblioteca

Change is the one constant on a writer’s journey to the recycle bin. It doesn’t matter how eloquent your thoughts are in the twenty-first century, all it takes is a server failure and your life’s works will become robot.txt.

If I wanted to preserve this blog it would be wiser to print it off and laminate it for safe keeping. Your future memory palace is more likely to be sourced from handwritten notebooks than your Facebook archives.

All this superlative technology and ancient rock symbols carved with a chisel will out last us all.

The future on you

I don’t know when it happened but I became obsessed with the future. Not what happens tomorrow, next week or even six months time, more how the next generation will perceive us. In my early twenties I didn’t care how my society would go down in history. It never even occurred to me.

Perhaps I was too busy living to realise, but the early millennium felt like a continuation of what had gone on before. Mobile phones fell into our pockets only we never ever had any credit to make a difference.

A social revolution has long since taken place and we are embracing the first wave of profound human change, and the wild promises of illusionary realities. Crackling with vitality, the internet is a counter-planet constructed in an invisible place, almost like a post-terrestrial resistance against an empty universe.

Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism – “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us”  – has never been more prevalent in modern culture.

Google Glass Map

While I embrace change, I also fear becoming irrelevant to the unborn billions who will be entirely shaped by the internet. Despite immersing myself in smartphone culture, I find the potential of retinal technology absolutely terrifying. Google Glass (or its descendants) will revolutionise society in twenty years time. An augmented reality service that optimises eyesight to W3 will change everything.

The ’80s yuppies with their brick mobile phones are what marketing types call ‘early adopters’. They shaped the landscape and now they are ubiquitous. Likewise the Californian tech-hipsters with Google Glasses are just the beginning.

Even if you opt out of wearing Google Glass there will be billions of digitally subscribed eyes immersing you in their own reality. Uncomfortable? Move with the times.

When you can re-live the past there’s nothing you can hide. Our faculties are already being eroded by the internet and with retinal technology, you will no longer need to remember anything.

Memory could well become a myth like ancient Latin or Greek. A romantic illusion unable to compete with an all knowing camera. With everyone carrying a second screen in their pockets, our lives are becoming increasingly cinematic.

Hence the rise of immersive cinema and theatre events in London and New York, where audiences want to interact with events that hitherto they had passively consumed in silence.

Our post-modern universe is like being trapped midway on a celluloid reel. Sometimes I imagine myself as a frail 82-year-old in 2063, reminiscing to young people about my semi-pastoral childhood in the late 20th century. Recalling barbaric stories about ordinance survey maps, paper rounds, rotary dial telephones, and black and white televisions.

Unlike today my Mum couldn’t upload images of her 3-year old son’s birthday onto a global network. I was nobody’s profile picture. My first day at school wasn’t recorded on camera either. Neither was my younger brother and sister. Fading photographs captured my childhood in a rustic manner, but our lives are an ongoing anthology, a composite of many selves, and the young boy in those pictures doesn’t exist anymore.

One seminal moment took place in my mid-teens, when in 1996 my Dad sent his first ever e-mail on this strange invention called the internet. My brother and I gathered round his swivel black chair and watched history in the making.

We didn’t think anything of it at first but I do remember it vividly. Who were we to know that this new technology would transform our lives forever? Now that’s history worth remembering and I haven’t looked back since.

1985