We used to hear about news items "disappearing down the memory hole." With the advent of YouTube, blogs, Google, Lexis-Nexis, and other web-based resources, we can now draw almost anything from the Internet-based "Memory Well." And, contrary to the old saw, you can go back to the Well as often as you like.
The Internet Memory Well will redefine private vs. public areas. As Joshua Meyerowitz described in No Sense of Place:The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior, the older mass media have already blurred the distinctions between adult and child, between genders and between social classes. Even so, some areas remained more "hidden" than others.
When we lived under conditions of primary orality, human memory was the only way to transmit cultural heritage from one generation to the next. During the manuscript and print eras, written documents replaced memory as the primary means of transmitting information over time and space. In the early years of electronic media, only a few had access to external memory devices to record and preserve our culture. An electronic broadcast would be sent to many, but then disappear into the aether.
With video cell phones, cheap editing technology, and Internet access, what once was available to few is available to many. What was private has now become public. The Internet has added a readily accessible Memory Well to enable cultural recall and dissemination. Items dropped down the Memory Well no longer vanish forever. We now can retrieve video, audio, text, and photos at will. Vast server farms store everything in readily accessible form, and provide the infrastructure for perpetual retrieval. As long as our society can provide power to these vast data warehouses, the Memory Well will exist. If the power grid goes down, one can assume that there will be greater concerns than retrieving YouTube videos.
The ability easily to retrieve many if not all of our artifacts will bring about an ontological shift in our culture. For example, in oral cultures a person's word was his bond. Without written records to provide proof, people had to depend on the spoken word to bind agreements. Our political leaders must now cope with the new power the Memory Well has given to the spoken word. This has profound implications for politics, education, social policy, and mass media, including broadcast news organizations and the press.
Jon Stewart, among many others, already makes great use of the Memory Well to call our leaders and celebrities to account. Juxtaposing what they say now with what they said then generates laughter now, but will have more dire consequences in the future as the new Memory Well-based standards take hold.