A few weeks ago, I watched Toute le mémoire du monde as part of a project I was working on. It’s a short documentary film by Alain Resnais. Shallow as I am, I have a soft corner for high-resolution and detailed color display. But this film, in all it’s shades of grey (pardon the reference) captured my interests, into this contemplative essay.
The film is based on the Bibliothèque nationale de France (National Library of France), that housed about 11 million books and prints as of 1956. In addition, an agglomeration of maps, photographs, antiques, periodicals and manuscripts — was morphing it to a sort of museum. To accommodate it’s bursting seams, the library claws deeper into the soil and reaches heavenward. Treasures in obscure publications which may be the basis for tomorrow’s knowledge are found, and, even if they aren’t, they reside in safe organization until discovered. Every piece of this collection is marked, catalogued, preserved and indexed. Most are handled in controlled temperatures, then locked and sealed to preserve wear and death.
When read through the film, a synthesis is created – a ripple effect of thoughts and interactions that stem into a part of this world’s memory.
Fast forward to right here, right now – it isn’t much different. Behind the safety of a screen, memory increases exponentially by the hour. A library with no silence, there is indexed meta-data and information in systematic networks. Databases as catalogues with searching, a mere click away. Each user with no distinguished privilege, contributing to the synthesis through generation, response or even passive consumption. A house for opinions and responses, human identity, sonic and visual art, cat gifs, available scholarship, an instant bridge across space-time, anything and everything significant and inconsequential. Essentially, a ceaseless library, with an ever-growing collection of zeros and ones. This memory may as well be eternal, with each an author and a responsibility to shoulder. Is the universal memory of the present just white noise?
“Here, we glimpse a future in which all mysteries are solved. And this will come about simply because the readers, each working on his slice of universal memory will have laid the fragments of a single secret end to end, perhaps a secret bearing the beautiful name of happiness.” — the narrator concludes, as the movie ends.
Alas, what is the future of this universal memory? Are there parts that will remain safely organised outside of what we know of?