Tuesday, October 29

Katz Festival: Data-dumping and remembering the past

by Dara Horn

Tell me if this has ever happened to you.

You celebrated something over the weekend—a child’s birthday, a friend’s wedding, an anniversary, a holiday—and you took some pictures. 

Or at least you thought you took “some” pictures. 

The only problem, as you discovered when you got home, was that “some” pictures turned out to be 487 pictures.

If you had taken 20, or even 80, you might have enjoyed glancing through them. But the mere thought of looking through 487 pictures turns reliving the past into something unpleasant, burdensome. You never look at them again.

In my novel, “A Guide for the Perplexed,” a software developer creates an app that records everything its users do. She is so successful that she’s invited all over the world, including to Egypt. When she takes that ill-fated invitation, she finds herself kidnapped in Egypt’s post-revolutionary chaos—and suddenly faced, in a dark and silent room, with what it really means to remember the past. That past includes the lives of Jewish data-dumpers who came before her.

In Cairo, a thriving Jewish community once stored 150,000 scraps of paper in a genizah—a “hiding place” in a 900-year-old synagogue where anything with Hebrew letters was tossed into a windowless room. The material they saved created a kind of medieval Facebook. But 100 years after its discovery, much of it has barely been read yet.

What is it about data-dumping that we find so compelling, then and now? Why do we aspire to save every moment of our lives—and now that we can, are we sure that we want to?

We’ll talk about this and my novel when I visit the Ann Katz Festival of Books and Arts on Oct. 30 at 7 p.m.

Guest blogger Dara Horn is author of A Guide for the Perplexed and is set to appear as a featured speaker at the 15th Annual Ann Katz Festival of Books and Arts.

1 comment:

  1. Dara Horn was such a wonderful speaker last night. Funny, and her wide range of knowledge is tapped into in meaningful ways, not at all like the hoarded random material in the Cairo Genizah that she describes. Thanks to the JCC for bringing Dara Horn here, and for the work that goes into the entire festival. -- Glenn Halberstadt