Is the Internet Your Griot?

“His excursions may be more enjoyable if he can reacquire the privilege of forgetting the manifold things he does not need to have immediately at hand, with some assurance that he can find them again if they prove important.” —from “As We May Think” by Vannevar Bush

The time is upon us! We can offload innumerable amounts of data onto our technological devices. Don’t bother remembering that phone number; just pull it up on your cell phone. Or…wait for it…just give your cell phone a voice command and tell it whom to call—and bask in the fanciness of your own pants. As I read Vannevar Bush’s work, however, I began to wonder—what are the “manifold things” we do not “need to have immediately at hand”? What happens when technology fails? Can we trust our technology? Can we trust ourselves to record those manifold things accurately? And as we each toss our contributions into/onto the intricate web, will our quest to find the right questions to access that information turn into a veritable search for the Holy Grail?

I keep thinking about context. Technology does permit us to forget and find again, but sometimes what we find is divorced from its context. We know that the web can hold the stories, and even hold the contextual aspects of the stories, but knowing the right questions to ask to access that information may be a bit tricky for some.

Last weekend, I attended an amazing event called “Building a Vocal Community,” a workshop led by Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell (some may know her from the group Sweet Honey in the Rock). During the workshop, she discussed the importance of griots—the historians, story keepers, story tellers, and so much more.

As I consider the “manifold things” we have given to the internet, and the possibility to feel both immensely connected and terrifyingly disconnected on the web, I also consider how we find and contextualize the things that “prove important” (to quote Vannevar Bush). It leads me to ask quite simply, and with no intent to disempower the position, is the internet your griot?

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