Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Memories are made of this

Forty-six years ago when I moved with my family to the village of North Easton, Massachusetts, I began working my way through the local Ames Free Library, an eccentric collection of books (in those days) housed in a marvelous Henry Hobson Richardson building. At one point in those first few years I brought home a 19th-century book on microscopic fungi called Rust, Smut, Mould and Mildew, which not only had the irresistible title, it also had (as I recall) the lowest acquisition number in the library, No. 1. The title became a family catch phrase for anything that needed a wash-up or a dusting.

Last evening at dinner, for reasons I need not relate, I referred to the book: Rust, Smut, Mould and Mildew. "No," says my spouse, "the book was titled Rust, Smut, Mildew and Mould."

"I demur, my pet," says I.

""Ah, but you are wrong, as usual," says she demurely.

"I remember distinctly," says I.

"Erroneously," says she. "Check it on the internet."

"It won't be on the internet," says I. "The book is more than a century old."

"Everything is on the internet," says she.

So I google "Rust, Smut, Mould and Mildew." And smarty-pants Google says, "Do you mean Rust, Smut, Mildew and Mould?"

And there it is, not only the title, but the entire book, published in Britain in 1865, by the delightfully named Mordecai Cubitt Cooke, with the hand-colored illustrations just as I -- er -- remembered them. Googlized!

I recount this little story to confirm the extent that the internet, and especially Google, has become the collective memory of our species. Whereas previous generations slipped into doddering old age with raveled recall of the past, we are only a click away from Mordecai Cubitt Cooke and his mycological compendium.

"Pass the peas," says she, with her pixie smirk.