Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Stream of Thought on Memory

I have this vague memory of a movie from my childhood, from back in the days when nothing came on demand and you watched whatever the limited selection of television offered. Back when commercials were a given and television was still an event. When everyone watched the same stuff at the same time and spoilers hadn’t been annoyingly discovered yet.

I can’t remember much at all about the movie. I just know it was creepy enough to fascinate my childhood imagination without being scary enough to really traumatize it. I know it was a mystery, and even better, a murder mystery. That is something my Hardy Boys books never offered me. It had a bunch of gruesome deaths, revealed in theatrical fashion. It was called, “Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?”

Every once in a while I look to see if it is available. I think I would like to revisit it. But, then again, maybe I shouldn’t. Every other film I’ve watched or owned from that era—even when they are great films—somehow miss the feeling my memories of that television viewing evokes. It might be like going back to places from my past. They feel weird. Not quite the same place. Somehow, they are out of time. You can never, really, go back.

We live in a wondrous time. We pretty much have the sum of all human knowledge, creativity, and culture at our finger tips. Yet somehow it is as though we are filtered out of reality. Seeing the Great Barrier Reef from a satellite picture in real time—or even through tourist snapshots or live video streams—is not the same as being there. A photo of the Mona Lisa—or a live camera feed from the Louvre—doesn’t really translate.

I love the expanded knowledge and experience we are offered. But when it comes to capturing moments from our past, endlessly reliving them only seems to cheapen the memories. The faint recollection is endlessly more valuable and rich than the photo, video, or any other form of copy. And as memory aides, the further removed the better. So, a photo is better than a video. A journal entry better than a photo. You want to trigger the memory, not recast it.

Experts tell me, every time you relive a memory you are not remembering the event, but rather your most recent recollection of it. It is as if your brain re-records the memory every time you play it. As delicate a process as that may seem, and as unreliable that renders our memories over time, it seems all of our digital recording of life worsen things. We don’t carry our delicate personal perspective of events around anymore, but rather the camera perspective of things. I remember my childhood as a collage of moments seen through my eyes. Do today’s kids see their childhood through their own eyes? Or do they carry around a collection of moments starring them, with the camera not seeing the world from their perspective but focused on them?

How does that shape their understanding of the world?

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