Personally, my email inbox is unequivocally a reflection of my mental state. Spurts of efficiency buried under a pile of skirted responsibilities. Missed opportunities drowning in apathy. Clicking ‘delete all’ on my clutter feels like 21st century nihilism at its finest. My uncertainty has manifested digitally as ten separate folders filled with email threads I’ll probably never look at again but am saving anyways — you know, just incase I want to get in touch with someone about an assignment I submitted three years ago. My number of unread emails correlates directly with the number of personal issues, relationship or otherwise, that I’m actively avoiding. But just like a random fond memory passing through my consciousness in the middle of a stressful day, every now and again an interesting email will rise through the stress-inducing clutter of my inbox. And just like it’s okay to let yourself waste some time reliving a happy moment, it’s okay to read something that isn’t a meeting reminder.
This past week I must have been having a great mental health day, because I read the weekly honors email blast in full. Beyond that, though, one of the events actually ended up in my phone calendar. Then, by a true miracle, I actually found myself in Pruis hall at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday anxiously waiting for the presentation to start.
I was there to see Dr. Abby Smith Rumsey speak on, “how digital memory will change our past and shape our future,” as part of Ball State’s Inaugural Digital Scholarship Lecture. If none of those names or words mean anything to you, you’re not alone. The throng of COMM 210 students who filed out during the Q&A and I also did not know what we were getting into. I had an inkling I would enjoy the presentation because I’m a total nerd, but I didn’t realize it would truly hit all my sweet spots. Media, history, pop culture, rhetoric, and psychology all converged for one of the most captivating presentations I’ve watched in a very long time.
I’ve been reflecting a lot since I watched this presentation, and I will now hit you with the highlights, even though my blathering won’t do the topic any justice. Dr. Smith Rumsey touched on how memory is critical for creativity, because imagination is simply, in a sense, memory in the future tense. Memory is also integral to the human experience. Even though we may not understand the cave drawings of millennia past, we still recognize the humanity in them. We are still connected to their memories, and, thanks to the technology of rocks and dye, they have now become our memories as well. Most importantly though, memory is key to self-identity. If a memory is defunct then the past changes, and when the past changes who you are changes with it. Through all of this Dr. Rumsey poses an interesting dilemma: as all of our memories move into the digital space, who becomes responsible for collecting, preserving, and retrieving them? This is a question which can essentially be phrased as “Who is going to sustain culture and individuality in an ultra-connected world?” Simple, right?
Obviously, I do not have the answer, but I’m glad someone made me think about it. I’m glad I read an email I didn’t have to read and went to a speaker I didn’t have to see because I feel a little bit fuller for having done so. Next time, before you hit delete, read that email, make a memory, save humanity. If I can do it, you can too.