A Brief Colloquy on Memory

Siva Vaidhyanathan writes, at page 177 of The Googlization of Everything:

In his short story “Funes, His Memory,” Jorge Luis Borges writes of the misery of young Ireneo Funes of Argentina, who is cursed with the inability to forget. … With his inability to forget, Funes simply can’t make sense of everything. He can’ think abstractly. He can’t judge facts by relative weight or seriousness. He is lost in details, and can’t discriminate between the important and the trivial, the old and the new. Painfully, Funes cannot rest.

So far, this might have come straight from Viktor Mayer-Schöenberger’s Delete. Memory oppresses us; forgetting makes us human. Mayer-Schönberger argues that digital technologies, by perpetually storing every fact, have precisely this effect on us. The past is always present, in every last detail. We are all Funes now, we the memory-haunted.

But that is not how Vaidhyanathan continues:

Google is not just our memory machine; it is also our forgetting machine, because it filters abundance for us.

Vaidhyanathan takes another commonplace of digital media theorizing—call it the “Google Is Making Us Stupid” argument—and shows its surprising consequence for Mayer-Schönberger’s position. When we offload our memories into our devices, we are forgetting. If so, then perhaps digital technologies save us from Funes’s fate, rather than condemning us to it.

The Googlization of Everything, by the way, is the book Vaidhyanathan was born to write, and his best work to date. Everyone will find something profound in it, as well as something to infuriate.

Should we Google?, Elizabeth Hopkins, FOX 25 Morning News (includes video interview)

Review: What if Google went over to the dark side?, Mike Swift, San Jose Mercury News, March 5, 2011

I was looking for a way to search US copyright renewal records online, and came up with a document posted by … Google. See:


“At Google, we’re committed to making as many books available online to users as possible while respecting copyright”

Interesting- professional PR spin language somehow seems out of keeping with Google’s style ,no?