In today’s New York Times, David Brooks toots the tin trump of the apocalypse to announce the Great Forgetting, re-christening the 21st the “Bad Memory Century.” The cheeky purple tie and pink pastel lipstick in his NYT mugshot always seemed at odds with the sober matter of Brooks’ columns; it must have been the jester in him always trying to come out:
Society is now riven between the memory haves and the memory have-nots. On the one side are these colossal Proustian memory bullies who get 1,800 pages of recollection out of a mere cookie-bite. They traipse around broadcasting their conspicuous displays of recall as if quoting Auden were the Hummer of conversational one-upmanship. On the other side are those of us suffering the normal effects of time, living in the hippocampically challenged community that is one step away from leaving the stove on all day.
Is this what the senescence of the baby-boomers means? Born in ’61, Brooks makes the cut, barely. Not that his column is entirely without a sociopolitical angle:
The dawning of the Bad Memory Century will have vast consequences for the social fabric and the international balance of power. International relations experts will notice that great powers can be defined by their national forgetting styles. Americans forget their sins. Russians forget their weaknesses. The French forget that they’ve forgotten God. And, in the Middle East, they forget everything but their resentments.
In any case, Brooks is surely right that the hyper-proliferation of media and information, and our gluttonous consumption thereof (guilty!), comes only at a price. We’re chirped out of bed each morning by flocks of data; we’re fed all day on rants and confessions; we’re rocked to sleep each night in the arms of unsolicited opinion. But rather than knowing more, we simply remember less. …Or maybe it’s just me.