A STRAY thought enters my post-office mind. Imagine if your brain was like one of those Apple updates that pop up on your computer. Man On Ledge lacks the means for an Apple computer, so the messages in question are usually just to say that a new version of iTunes is available (click here to confuse yourself). The new version is sometimes only slightly different, but occasionally it is totally new and you can no longer work out how to do anything on your iPod.
So here goes, with a glimpse into the dystopian future, taking the shape of a computer-to-mind conversation between a man and the brain updating service.
‘Your brain needs to be updated. Please click here for your brain improvements.’
‘But I like my old brain. I know where everything is in my old brain. Well, most things, as there are a few dusty corners. And whatever part of the brain controls where you’ve left things down could do with a mild upgrade.’
‘The new brain download will remove all traces of dust and leave you with a shiny new brain, fully purposed for the demands of modern life. And you will never lose anything ever again.’
‘But are brains supposed to be shiny and new? A brain should have all sorts of oddments rolling about inside, assorted weird personal connections. I assert the right to lose things and get confused and to say things I’ve already said before.’
‘Please download Cloud Brain Update now or we shall issue an Automatic Brain Cleanse so that your iBrain does not cause difficulties for you and other members of the iCommune.’
‘But I wish to keep control of my old brain, with all its faults and foibles, all its dead ends and curious cul-de-sacs, its gaps and lacunae and those strange dark pools of half-remembered thoughts.’
‘Warning: Automatic Brain Cleanse now in progress.’
Scene: sometime later. A man with an officially updated iBrain works through the day purposefully and achieves everything that has been asked of him. At the end of the day, he sits down to watch television and realises that he can’t remember what he likes or what he has seen recently. His freshly rebooted brain is no help, as all the old likes and dislikes, prejudices and enthusiasm, have been cleansed.
In a way can blame my wife for these thoughts (or being exiled from the office for a month). She told me that she’d heard about a man being unable to leave his iTunes collection to his children in his will. She couldn’t remember anything else, so is perhaps in need of an Automatic Brain Cleanse. I did whatever everyone does now and Googled it (the brain of our times, sadly) and discovered that the man in question was Bruce Willis three years ago. The Hollywood actor was reported in the Daily Mail to be considering a legal bid to ensure he can pass on his iTunes to his children when he dies. Later reports suggested that Willis was not considering such legal action, but this does raise an interesting quandary of modern life, as well as the possibility for a new movie, Die Hard: The iPod Files.
If you own a library of hardback books or a collection of vinyl records and CDs, it is very easy to irritate your descendants with an unwanted bequest. But passing on iTunes collections or Kindle libraries is more problematic.
This seems to be one of those shiny aspects of modern life that turn out not to be so shiny, or not so simple. A book is a book, a record is a record. But a downloaded book or album doesn’t belong to you; you have just bought a licence to read the book or listen to the music. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends partly on your tolerance of clutter versus your love or having physical objects around you. As for bequeathing music, my three children are at this moment taking legal advice to ensure they don’t have to inherit their father’s record collection.