Author : Bob Newbell

Jimmy Shindorf reclined on the hospital bed. A hollow filament as thin as a thread penetrated his neck over the right carotid artery. An IV dripped normal saline at a slow rate into his left antecubital vein. They had suggested placing a Foley catheter, but he’d talked them into allowing a couple of bathroom breaks per session. In just a few minutes they would introduce the nanomachines through the tiny tubule in his neck; a few hours after that, he would start to forget 60 years of his life.

“Mr. Shindorf, we’re ready,” said the doctor. “It’s not too late to back out.”

“I’m ready to do this,” said Jimmy. “Let’s begin.”

Jimmy felt nothing as the army of nanorobots swam through the tube, up into his right carotid artery, and then into his brain. He thought back to two years ago when his wife started noticing he was getting forgetful. His long-term memory had been more or less intact, but forming new memories had become increasingly problematic.

“Your brain’s full,” the doctor had told him then. And it made a lot of sense. Jimmy was almost 150 years old. After the advent of nanomedicine, people started living a really long time. The memory capacity of the human brain was never designed for storing two lifetimes worth of data. The doctor had told Jimmy about “defragging”.

Defragging was an informal term derived from the disk defragmentation, reorganization, and compaction that was once part of the routine maintenance of antique computers. Doing something similar to a living human brain was a delicate procedure. After taking up their positions within the cerebrum, the nanomachines would reside in a “standby” mode. For several hours a day over the course of several weeks, the subject would view images and videos and listen to audio recordings of episodes from his past under the supervision of a neuroengineering team while functional MRI machines and magnetoencephalography devices tracked down the precise neurons and their interconnections in which the memories were physically and neurochemically stored. When the computers had correlated enough data from the magnetic resonance imagers and the superconducting quantum interference devices and the spin exchange relaxation-free magnetometers, the nanomachines would be programmed to delete the memories deemed suitable and thus free up storage capacity in the brain.

“I hated high school,” Jimmy had told the neuropsychiatrists at several of his pre-op visits. The academic knowledge of his adolescent education could be retained while the recollection of despised teachers and disliked classmates could be consigned to oblivion. His failed first marriage he was advised to keep in his memory. The defragging industry had learned early on that removing certain bad experiences from a person’s mind strongly predisposed to making the same mistakes again.

He parted with a good bit of what had once been called “middle age”. A man could get by with the memory of a single decade of the dull, joyless grind of alarm clocks and traffic jams and work. His first retirement he chose to mostly delete. How much recall of gardening and golfing and vegetating in front of a television for years and years before the first somatic cell rejuvenation techniques became available did he really need? His encyclopedic knowledge of heavy metal bands he had acquired in his twenties? Gone.

He left his first defrag session feeling rested and refreshed. As the car drove Jimmy and his wife back home, he noticed something odd, something he couldn’t quite put into words. In some very subtle and ill-defined way, he didn’t quite feel like Jimmy anymore.

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