A friend wails that social media accounts, their overlaps and interactions, have been overwhelming her, so that she is no longer sure who her friends are in each compartment. Social leakage, far from simplifying her communication strategy has complicated it beyond description. This made me think about my iPhone which has become almost sacramental in a postmodern city. It demonstrates with pitiless clarity that our social context is not merely indifferent to but actively hostile to memory. Indeed, the postmodern city as an organism is itself proactively destructive of memory, or rather, the retention of memory, hence the incentive to remember is lost. Looking at one’s messages or emails on a smartphone, for instance, one notices that the device yields a snapshot, a brief twinkling of social interaction, after which it is immediately forgotten as if the door to memory can be closed, thus, details about the past and how it came to become the present are dismissed almost as instantaneously as they appear. This suggests that the present is only important while it is in fact the present; as soon as it becomes the past – something else – its relevance ceases and a black hole of history is created. A rather disturbing parallel can be found in a report from the BBC on the retention of old data on social networking sites another icon of the postmodern city. Rather than being a limitless storehouse of memory, the report refers to an article which outlines a tendency within social networking to lose information about an event, whether through manual or automatic deletion, as early as a year after its occurrence. By way of example:
I would use a pen and write letters, freed from the derogatory trail of socially obnoxious slime that the word ‘snailmail’ evokes and would have to think before allowing the Mont Blanc to make a single permanent mark on the paper. I would meet with friends and actually talk to them, indeed, listen to what they have to say, without electronic interruption, insofar as their own online lives allowed. Which of course is the problem. My online life is inextricably linked with everyone else’s and I want to say all of this before it gets relegated to a shadowy, half-remembered thought in a dark crevice of my mind. I am no longer an observer, but a contributor to the myth of history.