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.