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Inaccessible Data

I bet you can’t answer all 5 of these questions.*

1. Who was your first crush?

2. What type of cake did you have at your third birthday?

3. Where did you go for your first sleepover?

4. Who was the green Triceratops on “Barney & Friends?”

5. When did you score your first soccer goal?

You have 5 minutes. Go.

 Alright, raise your hand if you missed at least one question. And all you high achievers that answered them all correctly, pat yourself on the back. Now pretend you missed them all. My argument is based upon your failure!

Why did you miss those questions?  You wrote in your journal/diary all about your crush, how you couldn’t wait to get married, how they were perfect for you! And your cake– your mom/dad/Grandma/private cook/Walmart worked SO HARD on it! You loved that cake! And the sleepover, you were so excited when it happened. And you used to ADORE Baby Bop (the green Triceratops) when you watched “Barney and Friends”- she was your favorite! And your were so proud of that first soccer goal! I don’t understand, how could you forget all of those precious memories?

I love to reminisce about old TV shows. It’s a fun ice breaker question to ask, “What was your favorite TV show when you were growing up?” It makes people think back to the past and walk a meter in someone else’s shoes– their former selves. Let’s do that now! Click play on this YouTube Playlist (titled “Flashback”) and listen to it as you continue to read this post– you will find yourself transported to other points in time and space. And you don’t even need a Tardis or the Enterprise transporter.

I have written before about how no matter what happens in your life or what changes go on, the core of your identity remains the same. And I still believe that. But I have also learned that in many ways, I am a different person at different points of my life. It’s not as easy as stage theories, which split up human development according to stages of cognitive, emotional, psychological, physical, or spiritual growth. It’s also not as easy as levels of education, experience, or achievement. And it’s not just because we go through dramatic changes in life– marriage, death, loss, moving, promotions. It’s all of these and none of these.

It really is a mystery. In some ways I am the same person I was when I was five years old– but in some ways I am a completely different person. There’s no diagram that could fully explain this process, but instead I’ll refer to one of my favorite movies– a movie with critical appeal, deep philosophical quandaries, and… wicked dance moves?

Baby Geniuses.

This movie suggests that babies have their own culture, language and levels of intelligence that adults can’t easily see, hear or measure. From Wikipedia: “…babies are born possessing vast, universal knowledge and speak a secret yet impossible-to-translate baby pre-language called Babytalk. At age 2–3, however, the knowledge and language are lost as the babies cross over by learning how to speak our language.” It’s a touching scene when two of the babies “cross over”– it’s almost as if they have a case of amnesia (that takes over in less than a minute). After a certain point, they can no longer communicate with the younger babies or remember the “universal knowledge” they once had. But they continue to grow and acquire new knowledge, new abilities, new experiences.

And that’s how life is, I suppose. As you take on new knowledge, you have to lose past knowledge. We are finite creatures with limited abilities. And as time goes by, when we try to bring back certain memories, they’re gone.

Inaccessible Data.

The issue was raised recently by Vint Cerf, a Google vice president, at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He noted that as time goes on, more and more files, records, documents, and media will be inaccessible simply because we don’t have the devices to read, play, or open them. He calls this future problem the coming “Digital Dark Age,” referring to a time in history when a great deal of works, writings, and knowledge was lost. 

Andrea Goethals, who works at Harvard Library in Cambridge, states:

“If we don’t preserve files, we lose our culture, we lose our art, we lose our history… There would be nothing left to research in the future if we didn’t preserve the content now.” (Click here to read more)

So how do we preserve our memories?  Certainly there are a few ways to make that happen… Um, how about:

– Journals
– Photographs
– Art
– Mementos
– Stories
– Video
– Music
– Electronic files
– Web content

Of course… papers and photographs disintegrate, age, burn, and sometimes just get thrown away. Art and mementos can break or get lost. Stories change even as we remember them. And I just hope you have the write camera, computer, or media player to access your files. Oh, and if you have a website be sure to pay for your domain name, pay for hosting your site, keep your account safe, keep your site updated, and pray that the server doesn’t get hacked. Maybe you can use another site, like YouTube, Google, Blogspot, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, or MySpace. Just cross your fingers and hope that they don’t cancel your account, take down your content, or just start over from scratch.

MySpace recently decided to rebrand themselves. Great idea, right? Unfortunately that meant that anyone that tries logging into their old account will find that their photos, status updates, media and other personalized content is gone. Yes, you can request some of it to be updated or downloaded (apparently it’s still stored somewhere…)– but you know what you can’t get back? Your messages.

I wanted to go back one day and see the old conversations between friends. And it’s all gone. Years of memories just gone in a flash. Same thing happened to my Baylor email account– I didn’t update it in time and 5 years of personal messages, random memories, and creative writing, gone forever. So yes, maybe we can’t trust websites to host our content for free. Ultimately, we can’t trust anything to last, can we?

Sometimes that’s just life, human existence. “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). We can’t nail down our memories, experiences, thoughts, and ideas because nails rust, no matter what type you use. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” (Matthew 6:19). 

So what can we do?


I’m always grateful to Past Evans when they decided to record certain memories. But sometimes they wrote about certain things that I no longer care about– like when I spent a page describing breakfast at camp instead of my counselors, friends, or lessons. But what we choose to record often reveals more about ourselves than the recording itself. How often did you take millions of photos of the countryside on a vacation and almost no photos of the people you were with?  I know I have tons of shots of mountains and fields and very few pictures of my own family growing up. At the time, I thought the scenery was of the utmost importance– but now, looking back, I realize the people and relationships I had and have are even more important.

That’s why I understand the rise of “selfies”– it’s an attempt to record who we were at certain points in time. Because we are always changing– and since all recordings are faulty and eventually fail, perhaps the more we record the more likely something will survive. In many ways, a recording is simply a prompt– but a prompt is sometimes all you need! It’s like the first few notes or words of a classic song. As long as you have “JUST A SMALL TOWN GIRL” you can break out into the best performance of “Don’t Stop Believing” of all time. But without those 5 words, you might never get there. Without a recording, you might never recover that memory and encounter a certain truth again.


“Tell me the story again,” sings Chris Rice. “Sit with me and tell me once again / Of the story that’s been told us / Of the power that will hold us / Of the beauty, of the beauty / Why it matters,” Sara Groves chimes in.  We need each other to remind each other to remember. That’s why reunions are so joyous. “Remember that time when…” is a four word time machine. We can travel to lands and times beyond our own experiences and learn from each other and laugh and love each other well. CS Lewis writes, “A pleasure is only full grown when it is remembered.” We are to encourage each other and preach the Gospel to each other, to share truth and joy and good news. But it’s not just memories and stories that we should share– but experiences as well.

Why do we do anything with friends, families, acquaintances, even strangers, as opposed to doing them alone? Because they enrich our experience– and we enrich theirs. Watching a stand-up comic just by yourself would be… awkward. But fill that room with other people and suddenly you are laughing and chuckling and having a ball.  And when we need to be reminded of something beyond our own memory or understanding, we have a “cloud of witnesses” to help us remember. “He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles” (1 Cor 15:5-7). When times of doubt arise, we have others who can confirm the truth we cling to– “Yes, he arose. Yes, it’s true. We were there.”


How many hours left of today do you have? How many minutes? How many seconds? “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16). You might have an experience today that will only happen once. Wait, scratch that. You WILL have MANY experiences today that will only happen once. Some can be recorded. Some can be shared. But some will come and go in an instant. And that’s okay. We must simply enjoy them like we take pleasure in a butterfly landing on your hand. You stand still for a moment– and then the moment (and the butterfly) is gone. I know I need to be better at this, because I spend too much time thinking about what was lost instead of what I have right now. I echo Andy Bernard from “The Office” from the end of this clip.

The truth is, in most cases, THESE are the “good ole days.” We must enjoy them while we have them. C.S. Lewis writes in Out of the Silent Planet, “And how could we endure to live and let time pass if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back–if we did not know that every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and that these are that day?”


I know some people that love change. They look forward to the next move, the next new group of friends, the next job. And meanwhile I stand like a toddler with a handful of toys as he heads to bed, while Mom tells me to just pick one and I reply, “I CAN’T JUST PICK ONE!” I have to hold on to everything because who knows if it will still be there when I wake up. So I know that I must embrace change– because it’s the thing that makes me most uncomfortable. And we grow the most when we are out of our comfort zone– as much as I hate that.  (I also encourage those who are always rushing into change to slow down and recall the past and enjoy the present a little more too.) We must remember that we are human and that we are always changing. I am the same person I was when I was five– but I’m also someone and something new. God’s mercies are new every morning– and I am new every morning (perhaps by His mercy alone). But embracing change also means embracing loss.


No, not “Let It Go.” Let Go.

I’m sure many of you saw the questions at the beginning of this article and said, “Who cares?”  In some ways, you’re right. Who cares about the type of cake or the name of that dinosaur?  In some cases you’re wrong. Your first crush probably influenced all subsequent relationships– in big and small ways. But if can’t remember something, we needn’t freak out or mourn the loss of our memory (unless it’s something REALLY important like your PIN or the name of your grandchild). Instead, we can smile and pull a Rafiki.

No, not the character from the Lion King- instead, a camp counselor I worked with a few years ago (named after the Disney character). One day, after a bad storm, Rafiki got the news that a tree had fallen– on her car. She went outside, saw the damage– and started to laugh. She smiled and shrugged her shoulders and said, “There’s nothing I can do about it now!” There was plenty to do– call a tow, work out insurance, tell parents, get a new car. But her car had already been crushed– the tree fell RIGHT in the middle of the car. A big tree. It was crushed. But she couldn’t undo the loss– so she might as well let go of what she once knew and look forward to what was yet to come. She knew that God was in control and everything was in His hands. Even loss. 

So when we lose a memory, can’t recall facts or forget the name of a friend from middle school, we can try to recover it and see what we find. But if it’s gone, all we can do is smile, laugh, and say, “There’s nothing I can do about it now.” We can let go of what we have lost and celebrate what we have– new memories, new knowledge, new friends– and anticipate what is yet to come. For, “‘no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’ — the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).  The future, it turns out, is inaccessible data, too. For us, at least. And at least, for now. God knows all things– and nothing that is in Christ will be lost forever.

Who knows? When we are ushered into eternity, certainly we will receive new knowledge and understanding. Perhaps we shall see reality and time flowing and breaking together like waves upon the shore. And we will be like children, discovering memories like jetsam and flotsam along the seashore, calling out to our Father, “Look at this! Look at this!” And we will bring it to Him and fall into His lap, and He will tell us what it all means. Amen and Amen.


Posted under: Theology

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