A few years ago on a trip to Europe, I distinctly remember walking through a museum (I think it was in Florence, but really, it doesn’t matter, does it?) and walking by hundreds of pieces of gorgeous artwork. Instead of taking them all in as I usually would, it suddenly occurred to me that a day, a month, a year later, I probably wouldn’t remember any of it.
Sure, I’d remember being there. I’d remember enjoying my time. But would I retain ever piece of art that I was looking at? Not a chance. In that case, I wondered, what was the point of experiencing something I could clearly never fully retain?
I think that it’s become human nature to hoard experiences (or approximations of them) to the best of our abilities. People used to take a roll or two of film on vacation, carefully picking and choosing which memories were worth preserving. Now, it’s easy to take hundreds of pictures in a single day. We’re obsessed with archiving every level of detail in our lives, right down to what we ate for brunch today (I mean, what else is Instagram for?).
With our newfound archiving powers (thanks, technology!) we’ve become obsessed with holding onto as much as we can. Just like pretty much everything, this is fantastic… until it isn’t. Back to art galleries, I used to find myself taking pictures of every single piece I liked. It felt so important at the time – how could I live with myself if I let myself forget all the cool stuff I was seeing? This mentality leads to a scary collection of photos like this:
Guess how many times I’ve gone back to look at this particular album in any detail? None, you say? Good guess! Looking back, I don’t really feel the need to relive this experience over and over – once was enough, and I have plenty to fill my mind now, thank you very much. I find my ever-growing archive of memories and artifacts to be slightly overwhelming and unwieldy.
It’s helpful to accept that sensory experiences are, by nature, fleeting, and that this is okay. I found myself thinking about this as I was sipping a particularly tasty cup of hot chocolate in Montreal a couple of weeks ago. As delicious as it was at the time, I wouldn’t hang on to the taste and the sensation once it was over. The idea of ‘being present’ is pretty trendy right now (to the point that writing the phrase made me cringe a bit), but the people preaching living in the now have a good point. Letting yourself experience things as they happen will likely lead to a much richer experience than trying so hard to capture them for posterity that you’re not actually enjoying them. That being said, I obviously took a photo of the aforementioned hot chocolate before I drank it. I am both a hypocrite and a product of my generation.
Oh gawd, I used to be the same way when all I used was my little point and shoot digital camera. And… I was a narcissistic adolescent! I needed TWENTY PICTURES OF MYSELF FROM EACH ANGLE UNTIL I LOOKED CUTE. That wasn’t just me, right? Before I bought my new computer, I deleted tons of photos like that that I just did not need to have anymore. I was slightly ruthless, but I just don’t need to save every single memory. In fact, I’ve had my new computer for over a month and have yet to transfer any of my files from my old computer. Not missing ’em yet.
By the way, I found you on Bloglovin’ now!
Hahaha! That definitely wasn’t just you. I did the exact same thing, also with a point and shoot. SLRs just aren’t as handy for MySpace shots. The funny thing is, I almost wish I did this a little more often now, because I realize that I have almost no photos of myself from the last few years, but approximately a billion and a half from before then.
And yay, I’m glad Bloglovin’ works now! I had to get in touch with them to get my blog added so I’m glad it all got sorted out.
Dara I think you’ll find this interview very relevant: http://www.cbc.ca/spark/full-interviews/2012/01/12/full-interview-abigail-sellen-on-total-capture-and-human-memory/
B! I finally listened to this – that was really interesting. I think it’ll take a long while to work out how to develop a good relationship between digital systems and human memory, and there’ll be a lot of awkwardness along the way.
As I get older, I’ve realized how little I truly remember. Or so I think! Then suddenly, one random thing will trigger a memory and if I lived that memory presently enough, it all comes flooding back to me. That Celine Dion song really sums it up, how things can suddenly all come back all at once. And you’re right, I think, in the sense that it can all really come back to you if you were there the first time around. Really and truly there.
I think you’re totally right about how memories can come flooding back. Even just a scent can take you back to a time that you hadn’t thought about in years. It’s pretty interesting how memory works! It’s all in there somewhere and the mystery is how it all gets accessed.
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