Alan Garner spoke at the Oxford Literary festival about the persistence of folk legend as an expression of identity. He referred to the legend of Alderney edge as told by his grandfather. It’s an Arthurian legend that incorporates Iron Age and Saxon information encoded in its DNA. The people around Alderney relate the story, and in doing so they lay claim to their identity and the land.
Alan has deciphered the references to specific places on the edge. They inform archaeological, geological and linguistic features that add up to a clear historical narrative, based on Iron Age boundaries, metal working and ancient belief systems. Stories, for preliterate societies were the means by which information was passed on.
Today we have computers that record our information, but, how much of our identity will remain once we wipe the programmes or trade up to the latest devices? Already the British library is trying to preserve some of our earliest websites, less than 20 years old.
We are also transferring our identity to brands and technology in the way our ancestors did to place. People are already defined by the brands they keep, their social media community, postcode and buying patterns on a loyalty card. But this raises questions of ownership: how this information persists, who owns it and if our identities are defined by other people – research agencies, retailers, media and government? Are they today’s story tellers and how do they describe us? Could we even become invisible to future generations? Perhaps identity theft comes from those we least suspect.
If we forget our stories, and allow others to define our identity we will be complicit in identity surrender. Make the effort to reflect how you can retain your sense of personal and cultural identity in the information age and create your own stories to offer the future.