The Common Cultural Experience

and The Books That Preserve It

We are the children of our culture. Our parents have something to do with it, but they're not around us all day. Our culture is. Where does that culture come from, and how do we remember it? It's important that we get it right!

In one sense, culture is of the moment, and it evaporates when it is no longer of use. In an opposite sense, it is the latest instance of a long train of evolving, derived cultures that trace back in a linear fashion (with occasional hiccups, jumps, and dead falls off a cliff) to the culture of our ancestors.

Sociological studies find that human memory, perfect as it is in so many ways, fulls down utterly when called upon to recall the cultural soup in which humans swam even so recently as the last generation. "Time out of mind" is the phrase for something that has been the way it is today for longer than anyone can recall any other way it might have been. This period seems to be about ten years.

Books exist outside our memories. They can recall the way things were, and we can recall this information back to us by mean of books. But only if the books exist. Is someone archiving all the issues of "Suck"?

What about the material that deals with today's past? Our libraries are full of useless books. Let's throw them away! We need the space for new books. Or CD-ROMs or tapes or DVD's. Not to mention terminals into our on-line databases.

Ooops. I have just realized that I forgot to preserve the information contained inside those books. We need to recapture that information and preserve it in some usable instantiation, before we throw away its current instance.

Let's get some volunteers to type in these books! Hmm, maybe the Gutenberg Project has already done it. Well, it looks they won't get to the "Journal of the Anthropological Society of Bombay" for some time. This sounds like a job for OCR! Oh, maybe not.

Of course, it may just be that it doesn't matter at all, in the end. Fact is, your culture is what surrounds you (you affect it, it affects you). Maybe we don't need to know the past.