I was watching a movie in which three of the supporting cast were familiar faces – very familiar from some favourite movies that were watched more than once, though their names were not well-known. For an hour and a half, I sat before the TV wondering where I had seen them. I could not place them until the end of the film. I wasn’t worried though, and didn’t strain myself to remember. When it was over, I went straight to Google and found their names, but they didn’t ring a bell. So on I went to Wikipedia to rummage each person’s filmography, where – at last! – I found out the titles of those movies (how could I forget them!) that I had watched at least three times each on TV.
I used to have a cassette with some rare songs of Kishore on it. It had been listened to a million times that by the end of its life, it could only give out a few croaks in Kishore da’s name. Then life just moved on, songs began to be available all over the place and I could find whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Some of these songs kept popping back from unusual places, bringing a torrent of memories with it. A few months ago, another song which had never surfaced in the last ten or fifteen years, which had vanished from my mind, unexpectedly came back to the top of it. The tragedy was that, apart from two words in the song, and the tune, I could recall nothing else. I googled, and perhaps for the first time, Google failed me. The words I remembered were probably wrong or mispronounced (possibly Urdu or some ancient Hindi). The Big G had nothing to suggest. Try some other beautiful Kishore songs, it said.
I was miserable. I squeezed and prodded my brain so that something more would emerge, a few more words to help me in my search. But none came. I could remember the colour of that cassette, the writing on it which had begun to fade. I could remember listening to it in a bright, breezy room. I could remember many, many associated things but the words.
Last month, I simply tried it again, typing the words in all possible ways in Google, throwing in some random ideas, and there it was, a single result hidden in some obscure corner of the internet world.
More than the happiness the eventual discovery of the song and listening to it gave me, I was intrigued by the misery that the lost song (and the fear that I will never find it) had invoked.
When was the last time I had experienced the “tip of my tongue but I can’t grab” sensation? Or the “I want to kick myself for not being able to remember” feeling? Not in a long, long while. There was always Google to help. (And now, Facebook and Linkedin store the names of the people in our past, the ones that we are supposed to forget in ten years’ time.)
Many of us have lost the power to forget and remember: we have lost the power to feel lost. We no longer know the miserable longing for a thought that completely evades us. That struggle to recall a favourite song, a name, a face, a quote. We pull out our phone and type it in and it works faster than our fading memories. Most of the time.
There is going to be no remembering, because there is no forgetting.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I welcome you to the next phase of evolution, where memory becomes redundant, obsolete – you do not have to keep your past in your head any longer, you could carry it inside your gadget (and pray that it does not crash) – a detour The Origin of Species could never have foretold. We are already on that path (having taken the exit without realising it), storing everything about ourselves online from where we can pull and grab them out when we need, in a few clicks, not using the extract-and-archive power of our own memory to its full potential, not stretching our brain to its extremes, giving it nothing to do.
We’re going to wipe our mind clean of all the drivel it holds; nay, we are going to erase memory itself from our heads and place it in our hands.
And if memory does not exist the way it is supposed to, if it does not flex itself and work the way it is expected to, any guesses on where the species is headed?