Trust in the Files

This is a race obsessed with documents. Ours is a generation consumed by them. So much of our first-world lives is indeed dictated by varieties of proof: proof that you are social, documented by the Internet; proof that you have paid your share; prove to us that you were born in our country. I can carry this natural herb that you’d be thrown in prison for, because I have a documented need to use it. If I were to irresponsibly be involved with a child, my address and I would be kept in a special database, so that when I move in you can move out — there will be documents showing the decline in your property value if I am around. I’m sorry, sir; I know we’re the only place that sells this brand, but I can’t help you without a receipt.

Nearly every action anyone takes is documented. I’m certain that the console in my computer could tell me indirectly how long it took me to write this very sentence just based on CPU usage. The text message I just received on my iPhone was an SMS, but since I’m using iMessage, I have no doubt that it is kept, somewhere, safe or not, making the tiniest little electron hold still, in a data base at Apple, concurrently at AT&T. All of these things are set in place as failsafes. If my computer were to stop working while I write this, the console would tell me what went wrong. If my SMS were never to be received by some glitch of a cell tower, it would resend itself as soon as my connection to the tower was renewed or replaced. Everything will be ok, because we can prove that everything happened.

It has the tendency to send me into a fit of anxiety. Maybe not instantly, but there will be times when I find myself much too concerned with the status of my documents. As a writer, documenting is what I do, but I document what I believe to be much more relevant to the greater human experience, and have no interest in knowing at which point in time a car passed in and out of the garage and to whom how much is owed therefore. I feel almost leprous by the weight of my receipts. I never ask for them, and when asked, I never want them. I know I will never again catalogue them — but I have.

I collected every single receipt for every transaction I performed for a whole year at one point, no holds barred. Cash, card, gift certificate, coupon, you name it. I did this because I was certain I needed to do this for tax purposes. I will probably go down in history as one of the most obsessive compulsive 16-year-olds to ever be churned out of the Pacific Northwest. At the end of this year, I sorted through the shoebox and discovered nothing. I discovered only that I had spent an hour pouring over the finances of a 16-year-old, only to occasionally be reminded that on this date I had indeed eaten this, that was the day I that, and those happened usually on the days I didn’t thus.

Why do we want to track these things? Keep your old love letters; throw away your old bank statements. What’s so hard about that? I don’t know for certain, but I know that I could certainly produce a bank statement within a few moments of being requested; ask me for the last card my grandmother gave me before she passed, and lunch is on me. Not only do I find myself overrun with documents, but I find myself overrun with the wrong kind. I am certain I could build an entire house out of the stacks of drawings I’ve thrown away because they “weren’t that good.” So why the shrine to the things that enslave us?

I have to believe that some of this comes from the desire to be validated. There has to be some connection to wanting a sense of security. Let’s keep papers and files, digital and printed, so that at some point, no matter how bored we may have been throughout our lives, we at least will have a biography written every step of the way. It will be a book written by cashiers, debt collectors, county clerks and human resources. The Story of You, as written by those who only saw you as a hand holding a charge card, a number in a spreadsheet, and a statistical dot relevant to your likelihood to pay your taxes and cling bitterly to your healthcare. This is the story that is written in our first-world lives, often with never so much as a single word ever quoted from your lips.

You can’t trust people these days; for the real truth, let us consult the Documents. They will know who has been good, who has been bad, and who has ceased to be economically relevant to the charts.

A society that thinks it was founded on the values of religion is completely tangled in the messy business of trying to verify any individual’s past actions. We can know you killed someone, but if we don’t have the proof, it never happened. So if we cling onto this religious background to define our logic and patterns, certainly it must be, well, in the Documents, right? Yes, the Bible! The Document of History. The ultimate proof that our documentation is worth the time invested. The single solid piece of proof that as time passes, our records will remain untouched, and none shall commit to memory what ought be stored in the infallible fortress of a database. Untouched as the Bible, unadulterated as the Holy Word of God, never out of selfish reasons altered, our truth shall live on in the Documents.

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