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My daughter told me the other day that she no longer prints out photographs. I was alarmed. I’m sure there is no cause for alarm as all the photographs she takes are stored digitally, right? But how will future generations retrieve them? How will historians retrieve them? Would an historian want to retrieve them? Like the thousands and thousands whose photographs somehow find their way to flea markets, we are, after all, just ordinary people. Still, I look at these baskets of photos—25cents each—with great curiosity. Who were these people? How did their photographs end up here?

I suppose every generation eventually worries about extinction, in the most generic sense of that word. We save what we perceive is most important and toss the rest only when we have to. Four years ago, I moved. I threw out twenty years of journals and many letters. A friend in London had sent me postcards whenever she stepped out of her neighborhood. I had all of them. Should I donate them to an archive somewhere? Recycle the paper? Are they part of a permanent record or ephemera? Is it hubris to think that anyone would ever want to read these personal messages ever again?

I have written about this conundrum before in this blog. It seems to be a motif. Who am I writing for? Myself, certainly. Others? The future? Of course, I am superstitious about the permanence of the blog and keep copies on my hard drive and my flash drive. I have, as yet, not printed anything out.

I’ve been reading Victoria Glendinning’s biography of Trollope. That great writer loathed the “melting into open truth” as he called it in personal letters. The trove that remains of his letters, and it is a trove, is all “business.” Nonetheless, he was a fine letter writer though he didn’t know it or wouldn’t admit it. All the letters are in his novels; his characters write them in abundance. Indeed, says Glendinning, he became his characters as he wrote these fictional letters. But in real life, he did not think that letter writing “bolstered” a friendship or was of much use to anyone other than the writer or the recipient. I am sure Victoria Glendinning and Trollope’s other biographers disagree.


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