You, Dear Reader, Are Immortal

We are about to achieve virtual immortality.

Recently, Lazare Ponticelli, 110 years old, died. He was the last French infantryman left alive from the First World War. With him died the final traces of the rich and complex world of his comrades in the trenches, of his parents, and the vast majority of the stuff of his early life.

As The Economist’s obituary beautifully put it: The business of memory is as elusive as water or mist. The yellowing photographs slide to the back of the drawer; the voices fade; and the last rememberers of the dead die in their turn, leaving only what Thomas Hardy called “oblivion’s swallowing sea”.

But things are different now. We are all accreting ever-richer electronic traces of ourselves. Today, our emails are kept for many years. Soon, many of our voice conversations will be archived, and our instant messaging conversations, our teamspace participations, our pictures, our videos, and any sort of electronic stuff you can think of.

And so, in times ahead, when our last rememberer dies, we will still live on, through the medium of computer archives. Amazingly, it will be possible for our successors, many generations hence, to become intimate with us as people, to feel the texture of our lives: from our important decisions, to our most harmless of foibles.

David Ferris

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