Friday, March 6, 2009

The Memory Hole


A memory hole is a term applied to the deliberate concealment of elimination of information. It refers to that place where information is consigned when someone does not want it to be known. It is commonly agreed that the expression derived from the George Orwell novel ‘1984’. During World War II, the author and broadcaster Eric Blair whose pen name was George Orwell, worked for the BBC’s Eastern Service. This excerpted passage from his novel “1984” is believed to have been an allusion to his tenure at the BBC where classified or secret or damaging documents were immediately destroyed.

“In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. To the right of the speakwrite, a small pneumatic tube for written messages, to the left, a larger one for newspapers; and in the side wall, within easy reach of Winston’s arm, a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating. This last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.” - George Orwell, 1984

Whether or not BBC had such a provision as Big Brother did, the notion points in contrast to the severe liability of electronic messaging today. Many a time we have wished for a memory hole. We can buy shredders for paper but we don’t have an electronic e-equivalent. Not only can the involuntary click of the enter button send a dispatch on its irretrievable trip to the recipient’s inbox before it has been proofed or refined or discarded altogether, but once sent or posted, our e-stuff is not recyclable. It is often permanent. You can purge your own system but not someone else’s and certainly not the memory banks of twitter or Facebook and other networking sites. There are vestiges of your communications floating out there accessible by Search tools.

If you, like Christine and me, have been journaling in paper journals for years, do you ever consider what your children will think when they read some of your recorded rants? Christine has trashed some of hers. I need to yet they serve as resource if I get enough resolve to write some real memoirs. That’s why my blogged memoirs are as opaque as possible, so they don’t return to haunt me or someone else.

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