Among the souvenirs

The poet recounted his experiences of being in Czechoslovakia in 1968, during the brief time of relative freedom and cultural flourishing that became known as the “Prague Spring.” His memories had been prompted by things he had collected; cards, tickets, menus, publications, all of which had lain for years in a metal filing cabinet that had faced the wall and had gone unopened.

Did everyone collect such things? Mementos of events, visits, of experiences, of people one met would be carefully stored away. Railway tickets, football tickets, concert tickets, programmes, postcards, even something as slight as a booklet of matches (remember those?), could evoke whole series of memories. Whilst it would have been technically possible to photograph every moment, it would not have occurred to anyone to do so; the expense would have been great and where would all the prints have been put? Instead, unlikely things were kept as souvenirs of journeys and holidays and big occasions.

In fifty years’ time, the opening of a drawer of a metal filing cabinet is unlikely to reveal a collection of paper and card souvenirs of 2018. What opportunity remains of gathering such items?

Tickets are now barely more than an A4 sheet from one’s own printer; often they have no tangible existence, just being bar codes that can be called up on the screen of a smartphone, or a reservation number sent to an email address. Season tickets will be credit card sized pieces of plastic that are scanned at the turnstiles. The last time I had an airline boarding card that was not a sheet of printer paper, it was left at Kigali Airport and I had to go to the desk of Ethiopian Airlines at Addis Ababa and offer an apology and ask for a replacement in order to join the flight to Dublin. Programmes are still printed for events, but they are not needed; a smartphone will take one to websites with all the information and more that a programme might carry, all of it in real-time.

Among the sorts of souvenirs we once kept, what is there now left that has the evocative power of those things from the past? Will we leave anything that cannot be erased at the press of a button? Will we leave anything that is tangible and tactile? Even newspapers will become obsolete; things that might have once been bought as a lasting record of a significant day will have no reality beyond the virtual.

In 2068, what will there be at the bottom of a filing cabinet drawer?


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