Is the Internet Changing Time?

“Fragments of the past are for the first time on tap, not stored away in boxes,” writes Laurence Scott.

Laurence Scott The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World | W. W. Norton & Company | August 2016 | 20 minutes (5,296 words) 

 

Below is an excerpt from The Four-Dimensional Human, by Laurence Scott. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

Power has been wielded through the pendulum.

‘Now all the petrol has stopped and we are immobilised, at least immobilised until we get new ideas about time.’ This was how the author Elizabeth Bowen described wartime life in Ireland to Virginia Woolf, in a letter from 1941. Bowen explored some of these new ideas in her London war fiction, which is full of stopped clocks and allusions to timelessness, the petrifaction of civilian life in a bombed city. Across the literary Channel, Jean-Paul Sartre’s war trilogy, The Paths to Freedom, is, like Bowen’s Blitz work, in part a study on how time itself becomes a casualty of war. In one scene Sartre describes German troops ordering a division of captured French soldiers to adjust their watches to their captors’ hour, setting them ticking to ‘true conquerors’ time, the same time as ticked away in Danzig and Berlin. Historically power has been wielded through the pendulum, and revolutionary change has been keenly felt through murmurs in the tick and the tock of one’s inner life. King Pompilius adjusted the haywire calendar of Romulus, which had only ten months and no fidelity to season, by adding January and February. Centuries later, the Roman Senate renamed the erstwhile fifth and sixth months of the Romulan calendar to honour Julius Caesar and Augustus, thus sparing them the derangement still suffered today by those once-diligent months September–December. For twelve years, French Revolutionaries claimed time for the Republic with their own calendar of pastorally themed months, such as misty Brumaire and blooming Floréal.

The digital revolution likewise inspired a raid on the temporal status quo. In 1998, the Swatch company launched its ill-fated ‘Internet Time’, a decimalised system in which a day consists of a thousand beats. In Swatch Time, the company’s Swiss home of Biel usurps Greenwich as the meridian marker, exchanging GMT for BMT. This is a purely ceremonial conceit, however, since in this system watches are globally synchronised to eradicate time zones. A main selling point of BMT was that it would make coordinating meetings in a networked world more efficient. This ethos severs time from space, giving dawn in London the same hour as dusk in Auckland, and binding every place on earth to the cycle of the same pallid blue sun. As it turns out, we didn’t have the stomach to abandon the old minutes and hours for beats, and the Swatch Time setting that persists on some networked devices is the vestige of a botched coup. Although this particular campaign was a failure, digitisation is nonetheless demanding that we find our own ‘new ideas about time’. For as the digital’s prodigious memory allows our personal histories to be more retrievable, if not more replicable, we are finding in the civic sphere a move towards remembrance that shadows the capacity of the network to retain the past. But while time is not lost in the ways it used to be, the tendency of digital technologies to incubate and circulate a doomsday mood is making the durability of the future less certain. As a result, the four-dimensional human is developing new strategies to navigate a timeline that seems to thicken behind us and evaporate before us.

* * *

The past is making a comeback.

To begin our travels through 4D time, let’s synchronise our calendars to 23 April 2005, when Jawed Karim, the co-founder of YouTube, uploaded the first video to the site. Lasting eighteen seconds, ‘Me at the zoo’ shows Karim standing in front of the elephants’ enclosure. Noisy, home-video air rushes at you, carrying disembodied voices and miscellaneous bleats. ‘The cool thing about these guys,’ Karim says of the elephants, ‘is that they have really, really, really long . . . trunks.’ The video is banal, but given that within eighteen months the website would be receiving 65,000 new videos per day and sold to Google for $1.65 billion, hindsight endows this clip with an auspiciousness only amplified by its banality. Karim signs off his momentous piece of non-news with: ‘That’s pretty much all there is to say.’ It’s safe to assume that most of this video’s millions of views have been retrospective, a pilgrimage to the cradle of a phenomenon, and so these words are as dramatically ironic as you can get. For this reason, it’s hard now not to see a time traveller’s knowingness in Karim’s eyes as he stares back at you, a glint from the explosion that was to come. In this video the future comes kerchinging into the past, as it would if someone had filmed J. K. Rowling rolling up her sleeves at the Elephant House coffee shop in Edinburgh and writing on a napkin: ‘Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.’ In the pause before Karim announces the really long thing that elephants possess, I expected him to wrong-foot me not with trunks but with memory. The powerful recall of elephants is both myth and scientific fact. Aged elephant matriarchs, in particular, are able to recognise long-unseen faces, as well as reacting to present dangers by invoking successful tactics from the past. It’s therefore apt that elephants were present at the birth of YouTube, since the website has become a vast repository of memories.

I should say at the outset that YouTube isn’t only a gateway to retrospection. It skims the surface of the moment, catching the very latest of our shared interests and concerns: street footage of political unrest around the world, insurgence, injustice, potent speeches, confessions, showbiz gaffes, civilian charm and civilian embarrassment. It is also instructional, showing you how to master a bow tie or rewire a light socket. I’ve known doctors who will go on YouTube while a patient is being prepped for surgery, just to get a quick refresher course on certain procedures; although that is something I try to forget. But another of YouTube ’s executive roles is archivist of celluloid history. With the steady industry of uploading vintage television, films and even adverts – who are all these kindly gnomes, mining the old times in this way? – the past is making a comeback. There is some fluctuation, as the copyright police enforce their purges. Before the big bosses fully understood the scale of YouTube, you could watch entire television series that were still bringing in hefty syndication fees elsewhere. However, the exponential expansion of YouTube’s catalogue has overtaken such clampdowns in terms of sheer bulk. It even thinks of itself as time’s warehouse. As I write, YouTube ’s own statistics page estimates that a hundred hours of video are uploaded per minute. At that rate, over sixteen years of content are added to the archive each day. Its Content ID system, which cross-references uploads with a database of copy-righted material, ‘scans over 400 years of video every day’ to check for infringements. While you won’t get far looking for unsullied bootleg Friends, older, long-lost pals are gathering there to stoke your nostalgia. A 1980s childhood, for instance, is currently being resurrected on YouTube.

The resurrection is occurring piecemeal. I remember when the world was young and YouTube was sparsely furnished. In the early days, around 2006 and 2007, I would check it now and then, to no avail, for The Box of Delights, a BBC Christmas miniseries I’d seen just once at the age of about five or six. Only two scraps of detail remained in my mind. The first: a real old man on a real pony trotting inside a painting, the duo becoming painted themselves and disappearing around a mountain path; the second: an old woman scolding someone. ‘Your wolves are frightening my unicorns!’ For years, whenever these two memories would come to me, one after the other, the thick fumes smoking off them would give, in comparison, an exquisite emptiness to the present. Theirs was the heyday of my capacity for magic, no doubt enlarged by the time of year, when my secular schoolboy head was restocked with stars and donkeys and little babies up in the bright sky. Not being able to remember anything of the room I was in when I watched The Box of Delights, I tended to absorb these two rootless memories into a more vivid atmosphere from a few years later: a Sunday evening in the acreage of my favourite childhood living room, The Chronicles of Narnia piping away on the television, my mother nearby, reupholstering a rocking chair. To borrow from Amazon, ‘Customers who think of The Box of Delights also think of The Chronicles of Narnia.’ But then, one day recently, my call down the well was answered with more than an echo. A YouTube search replied with six uncanny little stills, my trained eyes knowing at once from their ample durations that they represented intact fossils.

The opening scenes of Episode One used the familiar tropes from this English Yuletide genre: a steam train chugging through a faded winter’s landscape, boarding-school homecomings, boys’ acting voices all posh and reedy, plucked harp-strings denoting the supernatural, trumpets denoting supernatural majesty. How quickly tedium set in. I was impatient, not for what I had forgotten, but for what I could half remember. I began to skip the story along, looking for the old man and the painting. When I found him I did feel a frisson of recognition, but the overwhelming sensation was of estrangement from that potent atmosphere of my memory. Still hopeful, I went chasing after the old woman, tracking her from episode to episode across that flip book of frames that one riffles above the time bar. Everyone knows by now that you can never go back, so I’m not sure why I needed to live out this anticlimax. YouTube is especially insistent on the other-country quality of the past because it makes you view the past literally through the prism of the present. Loading up Episode Five, its title ‘Beware of Yesterday’ being on-trend, I continued my hot pursuit of the elegant old sorceress, with a semi-transparent banner for ‘Accountants & Taxation’ obscuring the lower strip of the screen. My nostalgia thus imprinted with the Google-search incarnation of my current woes, I discovered eventually that I had got the line wrong anyway: ‘Keep your lions away from my unicorns,’ the old woman warns Herne the Hunter as they course through the sky on sleighs drawn by their respective takes on flying reindeer.

* * *

Fragments of the past are for the first time on tap, not stored away in boxes.

In the film version of Shirley Valentine, Shirley fulfills a fantasy of sitting at a table by the shore of a Greek island, drinking wine and watching the sunset. In the daydream she knew exactly how it would be. However, she admits, ‘Now I’m here it doesn’t feel a bit like that. I don’t feel at all lovely and serene, I feel pretty daft, actually. And awfully, awfully old.’ The future, when it comes, can make fools of us in this way, but equally so can the past.

I’m able now to think of a cartoon that impressed me as a child and within seconds be fairly sure of finding at least snippets of it on YouTube, or perhaps dubbed into other languages, so that my dear Super Ted has apparently learnt Swedish in the time we’ve been apart, and the Thundercats now roar in Italian. As I learnt from The Box of Delights, a snippet is often enough; a blast is all we really need from the past. For all its power, nostalgia is strangely lazy, and memory lane runs on a downhill slope. Had I wanted to, I could have tracked down my after-school companions, ordering DVDs online and assembling a retrospective, but those lost feelings were never quite worth the bother. Now, however, these fragments of the past are for the first time on tap, not stored away in boxes. Not since storybooks dominated childhood life have we been able to challenge the nostalgia for our earliest days by satisfying it so relentlessly. Although for decades we’ve had the ability to rove through the old times through song, in the first years we don’t develop the self-conscious soundtrack to our lives that encases teenage terror and ecstasy in amber. Opening theme sequences were among the first messages that my generation sent out to greet our future selves with a pang, coming at us as they did, day in, day out, as we rolled around on the carpet. What’s more, YouTube can move almost as quickly as our leaps from memory to memory, so that we can curate an external exhibition of our reminiscences.

About a century ago, Marcel Proust thought it necessary to write five pages on the experience of biting into a piece of cake, and this moment has come to symbolise a certain type of remembrance that results unexpectedly from a sensory trigger. The narrator of In Search of Lost Time, also named Marcel, is given tea and the now-notorious scalloped French cake called a madeleine, the taste of which summons up a whirl of images from his childhood. Marcel describes how

in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being.

With YouTube ’s enveloping of the past, it’s as though I suddenly have a YO! Sushi-style conveyor belt of evocative confections running around the walls of my home, with slices of Battenberg, Mr Kipling’s Six Rich Chocolate Slices, a melting Viennetta, my nursery school’s apple crumble, Penguin bars and the rest, all gliding past for my sampling. However, Proust’s point about the madeleine was that its effects were unplanned; the taste of it provoked a mémoire involontaire. So many of our past-blasts now are not only voluntary but wilful. Marcel realises that merely seeing the madeleine had not provoked his memory because although he hadn’t eaten one in years, he had seen them regularly, ‘on the trays in pastry-cooks’ windows’. And so, ‘their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent’.

With this ever-present quality of our digitised pasts, do we leave ourselves the space in which time can be lost and then surprisingly recovered? We remember those shady dolls tottering about in stop-motion partly because we assumed that they were gone for ever. Certainly for people much younger than me, the cultural past has never fully left, artefacts from the old days never totally irrevocable. In Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, the narrator Nathaniel Zuckerman describes the uncanniness of attending a forty-five-year high-school reunion in 1995, just as the early web was being spun. Classmates laugh and scream as they try to dig each other’s young faces out of sixty-something landslides. Nathaniel begins to view the whole thing as a joke, ‘as though “1995” were merely the futuristic theme of a senior prom that we’d all come to in humorous papier-mâché masks of ourselves as we might look at the close of the twentieth century’. Thanks to Facebook, those classmates are now coming with us, and we ’ll watch them age in instalments. Reunions of the future will lack some of the explosiveness of Roth’s ball, where ‘time had been invented for the mystification of no one but us’. Instead they may be more like animated and hopefully more tender versions of the subdued, retro mingling that goes on in social-media newsfeeds. In the scramble of Facebook migration, many old faces from my school and university days that would once have been lost in time have stowed aboard. True to life, we never interact, but I keep them there almost superstitiously, and they pop up now and then in the trench of my time-wasting to advertise the latest increment of their aging. Even my old friend The Box of Delights, I notice, has a Facebook page.

YouTube ’s memory for your private passions is another way in which a version of yourself becomes solidified online. Lipstick on your sidebar told a tale on you. I would blush if someone who didn’t know me well logged onto my YouTube account and saw the rogue’s gallery of suggested videos, where Bea Arthur huddles next to Lion-O, both of them cold-shouldering Dogtanian. But it is not only the private past that is being regained; we are also in a period where the scope of public remembrance is being redrawn.

* * *

Trading in a currency that remembers everything that ever happened to it.

The computer scientist and cyber-philosopher Jaron Lanier, who coined the term ‘virtual reality’ and who has written with both optimism and despair about the trajectory of the internet, believes that digitisation’s prodigious memory will be key to a sustainable global economy based primarily on exchanges of information. In Who Owns The Future?, he outlines a possible world in which data is the central commodity and all of us are properly remunerated for our contributions, conscious or involuntary, to the profitable crunching undertaken in Big Data’s storehouses. A simple example is that if you and your spouse meet on an online dating site and eventually get married, then you will receive a ‘micropayment’ every time two other people in the future are successfully matched up based on algorithms of compatibility to which your own happy coupling contributed. Lanier argues that since the data you provide – interests, profession, goals, politics – continually refine and improve the dating site’s ability to pair people, then you should own a share in the efficiency that your information nurtured. In this system, our digital pasts, archived across the network as data, resemble an actor’s filmography or an author’s back catalogue, an ongoing source of royalties. Such a model echoes Airbnb’s desire for everyone to ‘build a history’ online. Here the past is privileged in the way of all valuable things, as unforgettable as any personal treasure. Lanier’s design proposes an economy of remembering, whereby not even the smallest link in a lucrative data chain is forgotten. There is zero tolerance of structural amnesia in this system. As Lanier remarks, ‘Cash unfortunately forgets too much for an information economy.’

Lanier’s vision for how we will earn in the future seeks to make the most of digital memory. Even if we have yet to reach Lanier’s world of micropayments, we know by now that digitisation is making the past accessible and retrievable in unprecedented ways. We’re aware of the potential indelibility of our own digital traces, how this fourth dimension tattoos us as we move through it, and indeed how we mark it in turn, how its surfaces are more impressed with handprints than the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Every pathway in the network is a miniature memory lane, and as a result we see ongoing legal debates about ‘the right to be forgotten’, which in the case of online life includes the right to make Google uncouple you from your past. This right states that we aren’t obliged to be permanently associated with everything that a Google search of our name could dredge up, such as compromising or distressing photographs. If digital life remembers more than we would like, then at least, according to Lanier, we should be compensated. But what are the implications of trading in a currency that remembers everything that ever happened to it – every journey it has taken around the world, every palm, every pocket? An image of money arises that is as well documented as we are, with every handshake instagrammed, every transaction memorialised in a status update: ‘Looking forward to making these much-needed luxury flats happen! – with Smiling Corporate Sponsor at Unprofitable Hospital.’ In the early months of 2011, two events, which differed greatly in terms of global significance, both gave a preview of what life might be like in a digital world where money comes with a history. The first event was the disgrace of fashion designer John Galliano; the second was the West’s reaction to the Libyan War that would ultimately depose Muammar Gaddafi. Setting these two cases together is ridiculous in all ways but one, for they both uncovered the shadow-side of our connectivity, and how the insistence of the past in our digitised present will increasingly demand a new sort of morality.

* * *

Whereby ‘one can’t transfer short-term memory to long-term memory.’

In February 2011, a video appeared of John Galliano sitting outside La Perle cafe in Paris, in an obvious state of addicted unwellness. From experience I know that La Perle is a place where it helps to have all your faculties. I once met a young man there who, when Yves St Laurent died, was so upset that he skipped work by saying his father had just had a heart attack. People take fashion seriously at La Perle, which perhaps gives it its air of impending violence. Colonising the corner of rue Vieille du Temple and rue de la Perle in the Marais, it consists of two lengths of pavement supplied with drinks from a small bar area stripped of all possible comforts, and grows throughout the evening into a fuming billow of scarves and immaculate lips and biker jackets. The fear in a place like that of being slighted by someone cooler than you reached a deranged apotheosis when Galliano, holding drunken, slurring court, professed his love for Hitler and told some off-screen interlocutors that ‘people like you would be dead today’.

The scene, which happened in late 2010, was not allowed simply to occur and then lapse into the wake of the past. The digital trace, like a mischievous god, was present. Someone was filming Galliano, and the video went viral. Because of this footage and another similar incident that was reported to the police in February 2011, Galliano was fired as head designer at Christian Dior, and Natalie Portman, at that time the face of the perfume Miss Dior Chérie, said in a press release: ‘I will not be associated with Mr Galliano in any way.’ This is in one sense a strange thing for Portman to say, since disassociation was always the point of her contract with Dior. She was employed to be associated with little else but glamour, and certainly not with anything that had preceded the photographer flashing a camera in her face: sales reports, profit projections, target markets, campaign strategies, all those un-chic, self-interested commercial processes. Part of Portman’s job was to obscure this history of the product. Arguably the luxury industry’s most hackneyed adjective is ‘timeless’, and in one of the posters for the eau de toilette Portman strikes an ahistorical pose of feminine allure. She folds her naked breasts in her arms and regards a world of consumers over her shoulder with that look that is the only look available to her in such a context: lips three millimetres apart and irises slid to one side so that the eyes become two semi-eclipsed moons. It is the look of Girl with a Pearl Earring, but with the added ocular intensity of someone desperate to sell you something. But after Galliano’s breakdown, time could no longer be forgotten. The spell was broken. Suddenly, this timelessness that Portman was hawking was undone by a particularly grim history of imbalance, addiction and dependency.


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Two years later, in his first television interview since the scandal, Galliano told American journalist Charlie Rose that he couldn’t remember the scene outside La Perle. He said that in those days he was a ‘blackout drinker’, whereby ‘one can’t transfer short-term memory to long-term memory’. So, while for Portman, as well as all those entranced by the timeless glamour of Dior, Galliano’s tirade was a violent moment of remembering, for Galliano it was the opposite. And yet, ironically, he also figures the scene as a sort of rupture through which the ugliness of his own past comes rushing. By the time of his interview with Rose, his rehabilitation to that point had led him to surmise that the Hitler speech was in part a resurfacing of ‘frustrations from childhood . . . being persecuted, bullied, called all sorts of names’. In the oblivion of his drunkenness, he believes, an old self-defence mechanism was triggered, and it was as though he was speaking words from the past. Growing up in a diverse population of newly arrived immigrants in South London, Galliano says, ‘I would have heard those kind of taunts.’ Besides the depressing personal circumstances of Galliano’s outburst, this scene outside La Perle can also be viewed as a pantomime account of what can happen when the history of financial relationships is exposed, when time comes to commerce. A relevant Marxian term here is reification, the process that makes life seem primarily organised around relationships between commodities, the things we exchange in the marketplace, rather than the people behind these commodities and their relationships to one another. Reification therefore makes us think about ‘labour’, ‘wages’, ‘food’, ‘lodgings’ as being the components of this economy, rather than me working for you, and you working for him, who used to work for her, who rents from them. As a result, the relationships between all the people involved in this network of exchange, including the histories of each person, are forgotten. Reification is thus the opposite of Lanier’s economy of remembrance, which is based on digitisation’s humane ability to personalise the commodities in the marketplace, to keep them anchored to the real people who made them possible.

To put it mildly, there is room for a certain impersonal brutality to sneak into a system in which people are forgotten. One of the ways reification happens is that such an economy of ‘things’ is made alluring, giving all of us involved beautiful dreams and aspirations to make us forget the often unjust relationships between people in the network of production. Isobel Armstrong, in her book The Radical Aesthetic, refers to ‘a scene of seduction in which the fierceness of power and the brutality of capital can be disguised’. Galliano famously said, ‘My role is to seduce,’ and his strategy often involves the moony mystery of seducers such as Portman.

But in my pantomime version of the Dior scandal, Portman has been caught out, mid-seduction, by a bursting-forth of the ugly realities that her performance is designed to conceal. The public violence of Galliano’s outburst jolts the system from its amnesia, and the world is made to remember his financial relationship with Portman, their positions as individuals in a corporate structure. Understandably, Portman can’t tolerate this association. For his part, Galliano in the amateur video personifies impersonal fierceness and brutality. Recall that in his account of the event, the words he spoke had no conscious owner. In black coat, black cap and black, groomed moustache he arrives into Portman’s career like Mephistopheles. He unconsciously functions in this crude spectacle as a pantomime avatar of a reified notion of capitalist ideology: fascist, indifferent and cruel. He is the obscene genius who refuses to remain offstage, the disguiser who insists on revealing himself, and whose appearance causes a breach in the fetishised image of Portman, a fissure through which history and memory comes flowing. As a cracked commodity, she can no longer maintain the coherent illusion she was paid to enact, to play her role as the self-contained object of timeless desire and aspiration.

* * *

Digitisation, by strapping our pasts to our backs, is demanding a new kind of virtue.

That week in 2011, the broken home of Dior was like the Shakespearean subplot, microcosmic and thematically resonant, to a larger drama. It was a period in which time was regained and the past made vivid by violence. Within a few days of Galliano being fired from Dior, the economist Howard Davies resigned as director of the London School of Economics, over accepted donations from the Gaddafi family and his role as envoy to Libya. The Canadian singer Nelly Furtado, someone with whom Howard Davies is not normally associated, also atoned that week for her connections to Gaddafi. On Twitter she admitted to receiving a million dollars from the ‘Qaddafi clan’ four years previously, for a forty-five-minute private show in an Italian hotel. Furtado, along with fellow musicians Mariah Carey and Usher, offloaded the proceeds from these gigs into the absolving hands of charity. Donating a million dollars is the rock-star equivalent of clearing your history, but just as we are warned about the persistence of our digital traces, such erasure is never total.

The challenge to overthrow Gaddafi meant that the past lives of money, once so easily elided by the flow of capital, was remembered. As with Galliano, the dictator’s death stimulated an undoing of reification such that the relations between people rather than between commodities were restored to public consciousness, exposing the inevitable compromises made in the accumulation of disproportionate amounts of capital. The music world’s gestures of atonement certainly reflected the scale and pressures of the Libyan Civil War, but the extrapolation of their logic has interesting implications for the entire capitalist model. That is to ask, should we only sell our services to the virtuous, thereby excluding the immoral from any sort of economy of exchange? Would a waiter, if the dubious pasts of his diners were revealed, be obliged to donate his tips? What are the consequences of never forgetting? The Libyan uprising produced a rupture in the circuitry of capital that forced us to personalise and interrogate institutional systems, to examine the faces on our banknotes for signs of wrongdoing. Digital life’s remembrance culture suits this interrogation. We are back again with Lanier’s micropayments. In a digital information economy, where money’s history must be remembered and the past is retained as an asset in the present, then there may be fees to pay as well as dividends to receive.

The idea of money having a biography is emblematic of a digital age because it emphasises our own connectivity and the ways that our paths intertwine. The fall of Gaddafi caused ripples of wickedry through the hive. It will become increasingly necessary to sever old ties in a digital world where those links can easily be traced. There has always been dirty money and political distancing, but a culture of remembrance will emphasise both. In this sense digitisation, by strapping our pasts to our backs, is demanding a new kind of virtue. It obliges us to exert in the civic sphere the same kind of mnemonic rigour as our networked machines. In the UK, Australia and the US, there has been in the last few years a wave of sexual-abuse allegations directed at high-profile male actors and entertainers, which has arisen from a complex set of conditions. The cultural and juridical shift towards believing rather than shaming victims, as well as a transferral of stigmatisation from victim to perpetrator, hasn’t come from our proximity to capacious digital memory. We certainly didn’t need digital technologies to expose Jimmy Savile’s crimes; indeed, the approach was fittingly low-tech. Daniel Boffey of the Guardian notes how the head of the official investigation, Janet Smith, ‘used a similar methodology to that employed during the [Harold] Shipman inquiry’ fourteen years previously. Smith’s team ‘sent letters’ to present and former BBC employees, asking them to recall relevant information. But this scandal and the other cases that have arisen more or less concurrently signify something besides a long-overdue opportunity for justice. They corroborate a broader cultural mood that feels the proximity of the past, its accessibility, a sense that it has been preserved for our moral re-evaluations. These years are thus characterised by a fervent recollection, such that lost histories are unveiled and the present becomes infused with history.

* * *

Reprinted from The Four-Dimensional Human by Laurence Scott. Copyright © 2015 by Laurence Scott. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.