The World’s Memory

Computer Screen and LibraryBack in 1916, Harry G Aldis wrote: **

Imagine, if you can, the world suddenly bereft of books. What would it mean? Practically, the record of the accumulated sum of human knowledge swept away, and the processes of civilization limited to the experience of a single life-time, supplemented only by tradition and hearsay, dependent upon the memory of individuals. It is only by some such feat of imagination that it is possible to realize in any degree, the great part that books play in the daily life of the civilized world.

Books are the world’s memory. In them is preserved the record of human thought, action, experience, and intellectual activity. We are, it is true, heirs of the ages, but our heritage consists to a large extent of books, and what we are pleased to call progress is made possible mainly through their aid. Books have come to be one of the commonest objects of everyday life. We turn to them instinctively for information of all and every kind, for intellectual recreation, and even for recreation that cannot be called intellectual.

When I came across this passage recently, I loved it – perhaps especially the idea that books are ‘the world’s memory’.

But I also found myself wondering … Does it still resonate for us, almost a hundred years later? After all, in this day and age, we could indeed imagine a world without books – or, at least without printed books.

So then I tried re-reading his words, mentally replacing  ‘books’ with  ‘computers’ as I read.

And I figured what Aldis had to say – with a bit of a twist – is just as true today as it was then. :)


** From The Printed Book by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

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