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September 07, 2006
Our own history: What do we leave behind?
Turns out that I inherited my father's photographic slides, shoe boxes jammed with tiny images of Egypt, Russia, Japan. If the box says 1972, it must be Alaska. I take a box or two to the coffee shop every morning. And while my wife reads the paper, I jam the slides into a handheld viewer, looking for signs of a life that's now gone.
This has me thinking about the artifacts that we leave behind. When I look at the slides, I'm hungrily searching for people. Don't take another picture of the Eiffel Tower! I find myself telling my dad. Focus the camera on mom, on my sisters, on the 12-year-old ME! People are interesting, especially family and friends. Thousands of people could have taken that same shot of the Great Pyramid. In fact, thousands did. I can see them whenever I want on Flickr.
Same goes for journals. I have pages and pages of what he learned about the history of the Red Square or a Hindu temple. I read them looking for glimmers of his life. But this is the schoolboy writing. His teachers probably discouraged him from putting himself into the reporting, so he holds back. I'd trade 10 pages of dutiful travelogue for his recollection of the breakfast conversation that distant morning, as he and mother read the International Herald-Tribune and dipped croissants into cafe au lait.
Then there's the technology. I think we can assume that whatever technology we're using, whether it's a slide projector or a Wiki, will lead to aggravations for future generations who may be interested in our lives. This goes against everything I've been doing since the dawn of the Internet age, but I have a feeling that shoe boxes full of (carefully selected) print outs and photos have the best chance of reaching those great grandchildren in 2120.
Great, insightful post. I think that as helpful the Internet is, as well as its ability to facilitate transparency, we are losing the human touch. How much more does a hand-written thank you note mean today, as opposed to an email that was cranked out in 25 seconds and sent to 3000 people?
Although time consuming, I think it is a good idea to hang on to some of those time-tested, proven memories--not the fleeting technofad of today.
That said, I think technology can facilitate our ability to hold on to memories. Blogs are the journals of the 21st century, flickr or iPhoto give us the 21st century version of our Grandparents' photo album.
I guess instant gratification has its downfalls, for one, fads and trends can disappear just as quickly as they appeared, leaving us with nothing.
Technology can ensure that the shoebox of pictures reaches the great grandchildren without a single faded pixel.
Posted by: Kris Beldin at September 7, 2006 01:48 PM
I don't think technology ensures unfaded pixels.
About the hand-written note, I have mixed feelings. I just received a very nice letter about my parents from a friend of theirs. While many people have boxes and systems to keep analog records like that, I don't. Actually, I have boxes from the '80s and '90s sitting up in the attic. But getting up there means moving all of the towels and sheets out of the linen closet and crawling through a very small hatch, possibly wrenching my back. My point: Storing analog records is getting harder for us, since we're losing the habit.
Posted by: steve baker at September 8, 2006 06:44 AM
Great post, Stephen. It's nice to read a post about what I have been pondering about the last couple of weeks. You brought me closer to understand the impact the internet is having on us.
For me, an analog record has so much human touch to it. It's funny that about two years ago, I wanted to start a blog. Yet, to be unique and ensure the human touch of a journal was not lost, I decided to handwrite my thought on a tablet notepad, and then scan the paper. The images of the paper would then be posted on the blog. However, after about two postings, I realized that it was not going to work. It was too much work.
Yet, I feel we owe it to our children, and perhaps our children's children to document our life. What I would give to be in a position to read, or see photographs, about my grandparents.
Thanks for this great post! (Note to self: Ensure that my wife, the kids, and I are always photograph when taking any picture.)
Posted by: Justo Morales at September 11, 2006 03:27 AM
Your comment on the shoebox made me think about how selective one generally is about physically storing and organizing photos and memories. Thought goes into what is placed into the box. It is so easy to record and archive information these days, that we can't make out the most important information from everything else. The key, I think, is having a place, digital or otherwise, where we do the work of organizing that which is most important to us, that which defines us.
Posted by: Neal Harmon at September 11, 2006 09:17 AM
There are professionals eager to help with the work of "organizing what is most important to us", as Neal Harmon put it.
The website www.personalhistorians.org has a searchable directory of members of the Association of Personal Historians, plus lots of helpful tips for people interested in preserving the stories of their lives, whether in book, audio, video or mixed-media formats.
I encourage people interested in this discussion to visit www.personalhistorians.org
First Person Productions
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