XANTHIPPE: “Gee, honey, you look depressed. What’s the matter?”
SOCRATES: “Aw, I burned down the house again today.”
XANTHIPPE: “Oh, no! That’s the third time in a year! How much of our stuff was inside?”
SOCRATES: “Everything — all our papers, the novel I’ve been writing, all our records, our pictures and books — everything.”
XANTHIPPE: “You kept a backup, though. [Pause] Didn’t you?”
SOCRATES: “I kept meaning to do it.…”
XANTHIPPE: “Well, darling, you’re just going to have to pack up all the ashes and debris and take them down to that guy with a sifter. Maybe he can retrieve a few things.”
SOCRATES: “He’s all the way over in Corinth — and last time, I had to wait three days before he could even see me!”
XANTHIPPE: “You should have thought of that before you burned down the house, wise guy.”
*Homes did burn in days of yore, of course, and so did libraries, sometimes by accident (Alexandria), sometimes not (consider Umberto Eco’s thoroughly credible scene in The Name of the Rose). Yet on the whole, “data storage” today strikes me as a far more fragile business than many of us are willing to acknowledge — perhaps less reliable now than at any point in history.
I would think this, of course, since I dropped my cell phone in the toilet last night, and now a host of phone numbers, text messages, and other data are (at least temporarily) lost to me. Within the past year, I’ve also witnessed the untimely demises of two laptops — one of which had crashed and died once already within the preceding year and was operating on a brand-new hard drive.
These experiences may explain my shock the other day, when Elise was looking at my stuff. Books, records (CDs, LPs, DVDs, and some VHS), documents in several file cabinets: all of it, she observed, the sorts of material that now can be stored conveniently on tiny chips or in cyberspace. Had I thought about joining the 21st century, she wanted to know, and had I considered how much more room I’d have if I simply got rid of all this stuff?*
I could hardly believe she’d say such a thing. Why not just tell me to throw it all out the window? Really, for all her good intentions, I sometimes think that Elise just doesn’t understand the importance of my stuff: to me, it’s not decoration, whereas she’s the person who once rearranged all the books (my books) in the living room by color and size.
Some of my stuff is my vocation — I’m a writer, after all. Some of my stuff is my passion, including multiple copies of recordings of the same opera. And if I don’t trade in all my stuff for the ease and convenience of virtual storage, there’s at least one good reason: the sort of thing you see in the photos below is the sort of thing that very, very seldom happens to a paperback book.
*NOTE: The foreman of the moving crew agreed with Elise, it must be said, but on the other hand, he’d lifted and carried it all.