W.S. Merwin died on March 15th at 91 at his home in Hawaii. He was prolific, thoughtful, and provocative as a poet and, I learned recently, an active and impactful conservationist in his later life. His death was a reminder of his work - work made suddenly accessible through the internet and the outpouring of his fans.
He wrote often in the New Yorker, and while bumbling through their archives, I found a prescient piece of his titled “The Remembering Machines of Tomorrow” from November 29, 1969, excerpted below:
The first of the remembering machines is immense, immobile, no one’s. It learns, that is true. But its learning is based on information fed into it by sophisticated procedures, consciously, voluntarily. It is constructed of fragments. Even though it can record anything about us that we can conceive of having recorded, it is still in the main a recorder rather than a memory. But its progeny is approaching us.
The machines will become, in time, more compact. They will become the pride of smaller and smaller institutions, the playthings of more and more of the privileged… When the machines become small enough so that every person can have - then must have - his own, the day will be celebrated as the beginning of a new age of the Individual…
Attached to every person like a tiny galaxy will be the whole of his past - or what he takes to be the whole of his past. His attachment to it will constitute the whole of his present-or of what he takes to be the present.