May 2012

How would you feel if you realized that you have been given the role of an external memory? Nowadays portable USB flash drives and disk drives are commonplace, but long before their time, the idea of storing your data in multiple locations outside your own home was already in use.

I had a friend who very generously gave copies of her writings and photographs taken by her to all her friends as gifts. Only later it dawned on me what was the real purpose of these gifts. I began to receive telephone calls from her: ‘I cannot find my photographs, my home is a complete mess – help me – you have the copies, send me please the photos I gave you.’ I received similar requests concerning her papers, notes, memos, even postcards she thought she had sent to me.  But no, she never sent me postcards. She, however, explained me the motivation behind the idea of writing postcards. ‘It brings me to a dialog,’ my friend said to me, ’the possibility of addressing my words to someone inspires me more than merely writing down my thoughts or keeping a diary. I start brainstorming, I get so many wonderful ideas, and I must write very fast to catch them before they fly away!’ – ‘What about your friends,’ I asked – ‘What about them,’ she answered. As far as I could comprehend the recipients were of little consequence, the important thing was her big dialog with herself. After finishing her cards she posted them to friends who were supposed to save the cards for future reference. I think her idea was brilliant, because she had mobilized a host of human archives to store her thoughts. We, all her friends, formed a sympathetic and supportive group of people, a kind of collective memory where her works and thoughts were safe.

Only what she did not foresee was the fallibility of human memory. I must admit that am not an archivist. I just can’t remember where her photos are now. Are they still in that photograph album? Where is the album now? What about the important manuscript that she sent me a while ago … but I suppose she had double copies of all her papers sent to her most trusted friends!

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