The purpose of Charles Baxter’s essay “Shame and Forgetting in the Information Age” is to make people aware that life is too short to be ashamed of forgetting in the age of technology. This idea is important to Baxter on a personal level. His brother, Tom, could not easily process written information, but he could remember stories and people. Nonetheless, Tom felt shame his entire life because of his difficulty processing written information. Baxter makes us believe this shame was unnecessary. Baxter has divided his essay into five sections. The first four sections are related to memory, while the last section is about forgetting. With today’s technology, the word “memory” can refer to a computer or a person. In fact, Baxter claims there is a difference between memory for technological information and memory for experience. The first kind of memory is data, facts and figures that can easily be stored. The other kind of memory is the memory of personal experiences. These memories are not stored in a computer. The memory of personal experiences is important to me and other readers because every personal memory is precious, and more importantly, the key to who we are. Ultimately, confusion over the two different forms of memory has caused the desire to forget. Baxter has come up with a new term to explain the need to forget, strategic amnesia. The world throws so much information at all of us all the time that no one can absorb all of it. Individual pieces of information become less valuable, and some turns into garbage. Not knowing what information is essential and what information is garbage results in data-anxiety, another new term Baxter created. People spend so much time with technology processing data on a screen that they have become rich in information but poor in experience. A person feels shame if he or she forgets the data a person is supposed to remember. By writing this essay, Baxter hopes to empower people so they do not feel shame in forgetting, because forgetting is necessary. Although forgetfulness is a source of anxiety for many people, former President Reagan made it work for him. For Reagan, forgetfulness enabled him in his presidency rather than making him an incompetent president. Forgetfulness may actually set you free!
List of examples:
•“We have transformed information into a form of garbage.” (Postman, page 141). This relates to the epigraph.
•“reading and writing often defeated him.” (Baxter, page 141). This explains his brother’s problem.
•“the dumb brother” (page 141). This is how his brother described himself.
•“data-disabled” (page 141). A new term Baxter invented.
•“take considerable pride in their minds and more particularly in their memories” (page 144). This describes the residents of Ann Arbor, MI.
•“memories of our experiences in a narrative form” (page 145). This describes “our memories”.
•“Strategic amnesia has everything to do with the desire to create or destroy personal histories. It has everything to do with the way we tell stories.” (page 145). This describes what strategic amnesia.
•“data-anxiety” (page 145). A new term Baxter invented.
•“Some information turns quickly into garbage.” (page 146). This relates to the epigraph.
•“his forgetfulness, far from making him incompetent, enabled him to be the sort of president he was; it set him free from responsibility for his actions. For a while, he made forgetfulness
work.” (page 148). This describes how forgetfulness worked for Reagan.
•“the ability to exchange experiences” (Benjamin, page 149). How the Modern Age denies storytelling.
•“our experiences have been reduced in number at the same time that the available mental space for them has shrunk.” (Baxter, page 150). This describes how remembering data takes away from memories.
•“What you remember is the key to who you are.” (page 151). This describes why memories are important.
•“The shame of forgetting. The necessity of it.” (page 155). This shows the importance of forgetting.
•In the Lake of the Woods (page 155). I will use examples from this to show facts do not always help.
•“Maybe erasure is necessary.” (O’Brien, page 156). Why it is good to forget.