Digital Life


Here's another story about life in a virtual environment from commentator Paul Ford.

PAUL FORD: I've got wild dogs running through my palace of memory, and I don't know what to do about them. What happened was I was reading a book called the “The Art of Memory,” about the way that ancient scholars were able to remember vast amounts of knowledge by imagining complex architectural spaces, and filling those imaginary spaces with symbols.

So, if you're going to a give a speech on pride, you put a lion in the foyer. Or if it was about meekness, you might put in a lamb. And when you gave the speech, you'd go on a walk through your imaginary palace, no notes required. I thought, well, now, this is fun. I'll make my own of memory. It'll be somewhere interesting to go during meetings.

So every night for a week, I'd go to bed and before I fell asleep, I'd fill in the details. I live in New York City, so it was great to have so much room to decorate. And mental real estate is amazingly cheap.

I painted the foyer light green and put in some windows and dropped a 30-foot tall frog in one room. That's where I'd store my thoughts about biology. I put sculptures of great authors in another room, so that I could walk through them in chronological order and think deeply about literature.

I beavered away inside my head for a week and then I thought I could find any of this online in 10 seconds. I don't have time to walk from room to room. Where is the search box?

So my huge, amazing palace of memory - it's a real estate boondoggle. And it's not like you can sell one of them, it just sits unused until you can forget it.

I walked through from time to time just to check on the property and noticed that the bust of Mark Twain had fallen onto Thomas Hardy, and both of them were on the ground and Hardy didn't have a nose. The 30-foot frog was starting to stink, and somehow dogs have gotten in and were running wild. I don't know who you call about loose, wild dogs in your brain. So I shut the great, silver door and put a bar over it with a lock. And before long, the palace a ruin.

I used to think I had a good memory, but it's not the kind that builds a palace. It's more the kind of memory that wanders through the ruins and picks up old coins.

BLOCK: Paul Ford is author of the novel “Gary Benchley: Rock Star.” He is also an editor at Harper's Magazine.

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