Back-up brains: The era of digital immortality

By Simon Parkin

How do you want to be remembered? As Simon Parkin discovers, we may eventually be able to preserve our entire minds for generations to come – would you?

A few months before she died, my grandmother made a decision.

Bobby, as her friends called her (theirs is a generation of nicknames), was a farmer’s wife who not only survived World War II but also found in it justification for her natural hoarding talent. ‘Waste not, want not’ was a principle she lived by long after England recovered from a war that left it buckled and wasted. So she kept old envelopes and bits of cardboard cereal boxes for note taking and lists. She kept frayed blankets and musty blouses from the 1950s in case she needed material to mend. By extension, she was also a meticulous chronicler. She kept albums of photographs of her family members. She kept the airmail love letters my late grandfather sent her while he travelled the world with the merchant navy in a box. Her home was filled with the debris of her memories.

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「エールフランス」その響きに打たれて国を決める前に飛行機を決めた。探し出したのが師走の初旬。大手はビジネスしか空いて無いし、そんな余裕ももちろん無いし。根強く探して運良く見つけたのが直行じゃ無くて経由便。コレに決めた。ってか決めるまでに2週間かかった。もうこれしかない。これで退屈な正月から抜け出せる。KIX出発CDG 経由のLIN行き。

Cobwebs of you cling
to corners of my mind
no matter how much
sweeping I do.
You are the dust
in rooms I’ve draped
in sheets since you,
rooms I haven’t entered
or touched since you—
but none of this means
I have forgotten you
or the ghosts of us
that hollowed our hearts
and haunt the halls
we’ll never walk again.

"His memory of those times was like a house where no one lives and where the furniture has rotted away. But tonight it was as if lamps had been lighted through all the gloomy dead rooms […] Until that moment he had not been lonesome. Now, recognizing his loneliness, he felt alive. He had not wanted to be alive. To be alive was to remember brown rivers where the fish run, and sunlight on a lady’s hair.”

Truman Capote, from “A Diamond Guitar,” Harper’s Bazaar (vol. 84, no. 2, 1950)

Black Ink

together made, we make
the dividing line indistinct
each nothing adding nothing
leaving only space

each memory plots a course:
a summer day which became a leaf
fated to the autumn, and then
entombed within the snow

we rise ephemeral as smoke
a curved and coiling ring
which turns inward, inward
until there’s nothing left.