At least one of these things has probably happened to you: Your typed masterpiece or work report is spell-checked and proofread—and the computer's hard drive self-destructs. Your laptop is stolen, your digital camera mysteriously loses photos, or you accidentally drop your cell phone in the toilet. Every time our electronic communication devices fail us, we're inclined to lift this question (along with a few other choice words) to the heavens: Why didn't I save that information somewhere else?
It's a reminder of how ephemeral our digital storehouses can be, and how much we rely on them. They are our electronic memories. In the United States the trend to record our lives and communicate electronically has resulted in 159 million cell phones and 70 million households with personal computers. People share their experiences through nearly 200 million blogs and journal entries on MySpace and Facebook.
In many ways, these new technologies have had an expanding effect. More of us can consume, receive, and record more information—and share it with more people—than ever before. But as new technologies increasingly govern our interactions, preserve our individual narratives, and shape our cultural history, they also expose the fragility of our collective memory—what historian Thomas Johnson describes as our living, and shared, image of the past.