Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Shame and Forgetting in the Information Age

I think Baxter is saying that in the Information Age, there should not be any shame in forgetting. Baxter has divided the essay into five parts. The title of the first four are related because they are about memory. The fifth title is about forgetting.

In the first part, Baxter tells the reader about his brother, Tom, who felt like an outcast in the Information Age. Tom had trouble in school because “reading and writing often defeated him.” (Baxter, page 141). This caused him shame because it was not easy for him to learn printed information. Tom felt this marked him for life as “the dumb brother” (page 141). He was good at remembering people and their stories, but this did not stop his shame. For example, Tom overate to deal with his shame of not being able to process written information.

In contrast, part two explains Ann Arbor, MI where information processing is a major industry. People there “take considerable pride in their minds and more particularly in their memories.” (page 144). Baxter states there are two forms of memory: the first is “memories of our experiences in a narrative form.” (page 145). These memories are not in stored in a computer. The second kind of memory is data, facts and figures that can easily be stored.

The third section discusses two reasons we do not want to exchange experiences. One is because our experiences feel blank and second instead of having experiences in daily life, we are processing information. Furthermore, there is a difference between memory for information and memory for experience. In the Information Age people process data leaving no experience for memory. People have become rich in information but poor in experience. A person feels shame if he or she forgets the data one is supposed to remember.

The fourth part discusses the memoir as one of the few experience memories that increases in value. Baxter states, “Every memoir argues that a personal memory is precious.” (page 151). It is the key to who you are. The memories are precious and shared by narrating them to convey the experience. According to Baxter, narrative dysfunction is the process whereby we lose track of story of ourselves, which tells us who we are and how we should act.

The last part, the fifth, suggests that forgetting, or erasure, is necessary. Whereas the literature in the first three quarters of the 20th century is about the search of lost time, the last part of the 20th Century was about a new type of literature, the literature of amnesia. Forgetting is one solution to the problem of trauma. Baxter states there should be no shame in forgetting, because forgetting is necessary.

In summary, the parts of the essay are used to convey the message that there should not be any shame about forgetting in the Information Age. He ordered the parts in a way that the first part introduces the reader to a real person, his brother Tom, who had difficulty with reading and writing, and the shame he felt his entire life because of it. The second part begins with Ann Arbor, MI, the town of “Know-It-Alls”. (page 144). Even so, with more information all of the time, even the “Know-It-Alls” cannot keep up with all of the information, and suffer from data-fatigue. The third part talks about the relation between information and experience. We do not have experiences anymore in day to day life, but instead we process information. This is incompatible with storytelling, something Baxter’s brother excelled at. The fourth part discusses memoirs, because what a person remembers is the key to who they are. Finally, the fifth part tells of the necessity of forgetting certain things, such as trauma. It ends, as it began, with his brother, Tom. The only story Tom could not tell was why he overate. These are the reasons why there should not be any shame about forgetting in the Information Age.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    You hit the nail on the head with your analysis. Forgetting is essential to moving forward. Even in the information age, it is impossible to engage remembrances with everything however, because of the information age, it is not necessary. Informational access for retrieval is at our fingertips. History, reports, analysis, and the use of teleprompters has erased the need to for some memorization.