Friday, December 19, 2014

Even the Internet (Almost) Forgets

When I joined Midwest Research Institute in the long ago, its Economics division was housed in a building we called Barstow. It had been built as a school for girls. In our day the top floor was used only for storage, but there a old blackboard remained in one of the rooms—and the departing girls had written on it in white chalk, “Good-bye old Barstow, Good-bye.” That was circa 1955. The school itself moved elsewhere, became coeducational, and finally ended up way to the south where it still operates and all is well. But neither The Barstow School itself nor MRI (since the renamed MRI Global) acknowledges the existence of that building. In 1995 MRI undertook some major additions, but not enough detail is given to indicate whether or not “old Barstow” had been demolished. I’ve spent far too much time trying to find it—whereas, some five six years ago, I could still manage to do so. Well, even the Internet forgets. Almost.

My last resort was to see if Google Maps might help me. With some strenuous mouse movements, and using Google’s Street View facility, I managed to place myself near the building and then, with persistence, I finally got myself a view of old Barstow at last. Yes, it still exists. I show the picture here. The building is visible in the lower left hand corner. It has been shorn of its surrounding trees—and a smaller, adjacent gym-building (where we used to play volley ball twice weekly after work.) But the building still stands although MRI Global (emphasis mine) is now institutionally unable to remember that once it was (and may still be) using it. What MRI never forgets—which is not surprising given the publicity- and mnemonic value of the fact, is that, early in its history, the Institute was instrumental in formulating the hard sugar-cover that surrounds the chocolate inside M&Ms....

The background here: I recalled in another context entirely that once I had just chanced across Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions—what with my office facing right into the Economics Library that served our division. I wanted to write about that—but what with a morning wasted discovering whether or not that building still stood, that project will be taken up tomorrow. The Internet is capable of forgetting—if the cells that make it live forget. And Barstow will be entirely forgotten, I wager, after I too pass on.

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