Pillbox

Paperhouse

Writing this column is making me grit my teeth. It has finally happened — I have lost my external hard drive. Fifty GB of music — vanished.

The Bamboo Pipe Orchestra of Marseilles? AWOL. That recording of my French students wishing my mother “Happy Birthday”? Gone. The new album from techno master Gui Boratto? Sayonara.

It’s amazing to me how much of my life was bound up inside that prism of black plastic.

It makes me feel like an old man, one who senses that it is not just his own life fading away, but that of the very means he used to record it.

My hard drive was a Super 8 camera: my bevy of blog-borne MP3s, a trip to the Poconos in ’74.

The fact that I kept all of my music on an external, and one with fewer than 100 gigabytes of space, rather than an array of iPods and 10 gigabytes thumb drives — that alone makes me something of an antiquarian, an eccentric unworthy of sympathy, like the man crouched beneath his broken-down Dodge Dart on the side of the road.

I’ve seen pictures of the moldy hills of albums hauled out of the Attic record store in Millvale after the flood in ’04: David Bowie’s hair weirdly mottled, as if it had corroded in the sun; Wilson Pickett’s smile a bleary, gaping grimace.

There was some dignity in the sadness of that destruction. A storm had hit; objects were defaced.

The disappearance of this hard drive, however, is dumb and without density. I lost it — it was not taken from me. And what was lost was invisible — a data stream now thinned to a nonexistent bandwidth.

Is this how it will be for the so-called iPod generation? Our memories slicked in an instant, the backed-up data of our lives vulnerable, not to hurricanes or wars, but to simple carelessness?

Or will we, having lived lives that were filmed, recorded, Twittered, and forwarded from their very first moments, bear a heavier burden than today’s elders, who thumb through leather-bound scrapbooks holding only a few dozen photos?

Is a memory’s weight found in its presence or its absence?