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THE GUARDIAN OF ALL THINGS by Michael S. Malone Kirkus Star


The Epic Story of Human Memory

by Michael S. Malone

Pub Date: Aug. 21st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-312-62031-8
Publisher: St. Martin's

Every living organism possesses a memory, however primitive, but Homo sapiens carried it to a dazzling level, writes technology journalist Malone (The Future Arrived Yesterday: The Rise of the Protean Corporation and What It Means for You, 2009, etc.) in this ingenious, richly complex account of how humans exchange, record, preserve and manipulate information.

All creatures, early hominids included, lived in the present and kept their memories to themselves. This changed less than 100,000 years ago when modern humans developed consciousness, allowing us to see ourselves as individuals and life as a continuum. Speech evolved simultaneously, giving us the ability to share this new avalanche of experiences and memories. Our ancestors developed amazing techniques for remembering vast quantities of information, but writing worked better, so Malone provides lots of information about clay tablets, papyrus, parchment and, ultimately, the best, paper (because it’s the cheapest). Memories in the brain appear instantly, if surprisingly inaccurately. Once written, making use of information requires additional writing (indexes), institutions (libraries) and even more writing (dictionaries, encyclopedias, instruction manuals). Memory preservation had been a visual process for 5,000 years until Thomas Edison added a second sense with the phonograph. The 20th century saw a quantum leap as computers recorded and retrieved information 1 billion times faster, leading to what Malone suggests is a universal brain with memories available to everyone: the Internet. The author stresses that while microprocessors get the headlines, it was relentless improvement and shrinkage of computer memory that permitted these phenomenal advances.

An original, fascinating scientific history of how human memory and a series of inventions have driven the advance of civilization.