I’ll be giving a lecture on the difference between memory and imagination in only a day, and so I’ve been thinking about the accusation: “We used to remember so many phone numbers. Now our phones do it for us. We’re lost without them.”
This is true. From childhood to my teen years, I usually had about ten or fifteen phone numbers memorized. I still remember a handful of them.
Here’s the real insult from this phenomenon. Our phones remember our grandparents’ number so that we wouldn’t have to. However, we still need to remember numbers, or at least streams of characters known as “passwords,” a funny name because they lead to no passage at all but only to metaphors for our contemporary entrapment.
I know about seven different passwords which I have invented myself at different times when different machines and services told me it was time for a new one. I cannot automatically reset every password I use in every website to the exact same one without driving myself insane. So I just remember al the different ones. And I’m ridiculously good at it, far better, perhaps, than I had been at remembering phone numbers.
What a pile of nonsense. We have exchanged remembering actual passwords—numbers which brought us to the space of conversation with someone—for these wild multi-character symbols which lead us to our empty bank accounts. Some of us use the same stream of symbols, a exclamation point taking the place of the “l”, fucking absurd !over5!ane to access our pornography.
Our memories work fine. We’re just remembering absurdities.