As a child, we’ve all looked up at the night sky, trying to count the stars. But even that tiny piece of sky was so filled with stars that we couldn’t count them. The human mind cannot even begin to comprehend how many stars there are, and how enormous our universe is. This is perhaps not the best metaphor, but to a regular person, the Internet seems just as vast. The amounts of data being accumulated on the World Wide Web are like the stars: seemingly immeasurable. And like the universe, it keeps expanding. More and more information is being added every day. But what is all this information? How can we view it?
What I am about to say might not be correct; it may be too subjective or short-sighted. It is just me, writing down some thoughts, so don’t expect too much of it. To me it seems that all information stored on the Web is created by someone –or perhaps something, but that something must also be made by someone and therefore have a purpose that that someone imbued it with, so that something might as well be considered an extension of that someone- and stored there, on the World Wide Web, for a reason. What would this reason be? This was the question that then filled my mind. Why would someone store all this information, sometimes incredibly private, sometimes revolutionary, on this digital plane of existence? I could only think of one reason. The same reason why you write things on post-its and notes, the same reason why the concept of graffiti goes back thousands of years: remembrance. For what is the Web but a giant brain filled with memories, with information, with thoughts of millions of people? This new digital place seems to us –a still very mortal species- as eternal. It would be here long after this generation is gone, and maybe even after that -if we don’t destroy our entire planet that is. Isn’t that what everyone is always warned about? If you put something online, it will never leave. Nothing can truly be deleted in this digital world.
So if we follow this line of reasoning, the World Wide Web and all digital media in it can be seen as a collection of memories. This term, ‘collection of memories’, brought me to a theory I have recently come across. The ‘collective memory’ theory by Maurice Halbwachs (A. Erll, Memory in culture). Halbwachs theory states that all memories are collective: every memory we have is seen through a social framework that has been taught to us since birth, and this framework constructs our memories. This framework has been created –and is still being created- by all of us together, as a collective. If we apply this theory to our digital collection of memories, we get an interesting result. By throwing all our information, our memories, in one digital plane, we are creating an immense social framework. All the social media for example change the way we look at our information. Instagram, just one of the many social media, has drastically changed the way we look at photographs, and therefore at our memories. The creation of memes and digital slang has ushered in an era of neo-hieroglyphs, which has had an immense impact on the study of language. Our perception of collective memories is forever changing; now with the help of digital media and the World Wide Web. The urge to leave a mark has not left our subconscious: why else would your Facebook profile have a wall? It’s so we can scribble our names and thoughts like digital graffiti, and never be forgotten.