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Insufficient memory

I speak to non-Duke fans on occasion, and most of the time, they want to know what’s up with the Toe of Kyrie Irving. Why? Because Kyrie is Superman.

Apparently, when Mr. Irving was healthy, he leapt tall buildings in a single (re)bound and fought for truth, justice and the American way. He was also pretty good at playing basketball. In fact, there have been only two players quite like Kyrie: Michael Jordan and my father. Of course, it isn’t really fair to compare Kyrie to my dad, the greatest baller of all time. In addition to scoring over 75 points a game, my papa walked to school in the snow uphill both ways and worked tirelessly to support his family by mining coal for snooty Michigan fans who snickered “Obvious prole is obvious.”

Clearly, we don’t always remember people or their accomplishments with perfect clarity. In preparation for this column, I watched some KI highlights on YouTube and discovered that he was not the Superman we recalled but, in fact, a very talented basketball player on a very talented team. I was shocked. Why wasn’t he lifting up buses to save schoolchildren? I felt like I had been lied to. I gulped and tried to find out more about my father’s playing career, terrified of what the Internet might reveal.

Thankfully,’s online video archive doesn’t go back to the 1890s, and so the Paul Bunyan-like legend of my father is preserved. In fact, for many people of his and previous generations, myths and legends will be safe because there simply aren’t YouTube highlights or old webpages to show the truth. But what about us?

We live in an era when more intimate information about us is available to more people in more places than ever before. And, due to cheap bandwidth and easy backups, that information will stay around for a long, long time.

In the days before electronic media, persistence would act as the ultimate arbitrator of greatness. For example, many symphonies might be written and performed, but in order to survive, they had to be copied and reprinted—after all, paper doesn’t last forever, and you can’t BitTorrent that stuff. The difficulty of copying them out mechanically meant that only the symphonies that were consistently good and consistently popular would have a high chance of survival. It also meant that embarrassing ones, like Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 10: Ice, Ice, Baby,” would fade away in the public consciousness. The remaining works, filtered through time, would deify them. The nostalgia of the past would be forever secure.

Now, however, we have a problem. Time won’t erode away the naked truth. For example, the online Chronicle archives go all the way back to 1994. As memory and bandwidth continue to get cheaper, there seems to be very little reason for The Chronicle not to maintain its online archive. Thus, unless Skynet becomes self-aware in the meantime, it is a very real possibility that The Chronicle archives will still hold my columns from 2011 when my kids get old enough to read. And that will be embarrassing.

My kids will be able to read every typo, every logical fallacy, and every poorly-hidden pop cultural reference I’ve written. Their image of me will be tarnished; I won’t be the Hugo Award winner they dreamt of someday becoming, but rather a sleep-deprived college student who kept forgetting when his deadlines were.

And I won’t be able to blame them; that’s just what everyone will do. Instead of honoring people for what they are, we hold people and memories to impossible standards and then rip them apart when we revisit the minutia of their actual work and lives. Maybe this trend was around before, but with technology it has never been easier or more pronounced. Witness the phenomenon of effortless perfection here at Duke: We are caught between the desire to be perfect and the desire to appear to not be trying.

If and when Kyrie Irving returns to active status for the basketball team, he might have to ease his way back in, he might discover he has no game left, or he might throw up a triple-double every single night on the way to winning four consecutive national championships. But it remains to be seen. In the meantime, go and watch the YouTube highlights. There’s no flying, no heat-ray vision, and no Kryp-toe-nite, but there is some pretty awesome basketball. And that’s really something.

Harrison Lee is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Monday.


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