Photographic Memory Loss

I start this post by stating that everything that I say on this blog is coming from a flawed person. The opinions that I freely give to you are truly opinions and most of the time are not the most popular or, regretfully, sometimes not even true. There might be people who disagree with me, and there might be people who just partially agree with me, but I understand that. “This is Real Life” is not an exclamation of what I think the only way life can be for everyone else, but instead is an exhale, a sigh, that in some ways I can finally say that I have found my life. That is what everyone is searching for. A meaning to their life in this endless swirl of chaos on a planet filled with billions of lives. So I commend those who have stuck it out to listen to my flawed opinions, and I encourage those who revel in picking them apart to realize that this is the internet. And if you really want to find where real life is, you’ll have to get offline and go outside.

Alas, here is another one of my juxtaposed opinions (that I do share with at least some people). First let me ask you some questions. What did you eat for lunch yesterday? Mmm, mine was a classic PB&J. Now, what did you eat for lunch one week from today? A little foggy but I remember mine. Ok, what about the lunch that you had on your tenth birthday? If there is anyone out there that really remembers that and doesn’t look at a picture, I will be truly amazed. That is, of course, a somewhat meaningless hyperbole of the point.

The scary thing about this somewhat harsh truth for me is that some of the things that I actually care about remembering are now gone. The things that replace these memories for most people are photos. Since the invention of the camera in the 19th century, people have been taking shots of their favorite family members, their favorite moments, and their lives. This is such an under appreciated science. Capturing pigments of light on sheets of chemical strips is an ingenious invention to make remembering a little easier. “Hey remember Grandpa Joe?” “Yeah, pull out that funny picture of him in a straw hat!” We wouldn’t be able to actually look at people who have long been gone without the camera.

The next (very big historical) step in today’s modern world is the invention of the internet. Allowing people to share millions of pictures almost instantly through the ever-growing network of connected computers or now smart phones. This seems like a haven of stored and shared memories. The problem with the amount of pictures that are being taken and then stored and shared with others is that we are dumping our internal memory of a certain event or person into an external file. So when we want to remember something, instead of going to our own brain and pulling that file out, we have to go to our computer or smartphone and pull up the picture that helps us remember. Every time that we take a picture, we are dumping the responsibility of remembering that moment onto an external object. Thus our memories are overwhelmingly becoming more and more “fuzzy”.

It is not sad to think that I cannot remember the lunch that I had on my tenth birthday. But it is sad to me that I cannot remember some of the times that I had with my dad, or what my grandpa looked like unless I look at pictures. We are tied to physical, and mostly digital images that will someday fade away. I know that when I heard this extreme harshness about my own memory from a reporter on NPR I was taken aback and wanted to prove that my memory was better than others, or that the pictures I do have are worth the loss of memory. But in the long run, do I really want to have to go onto Facebook to look at what I did my senior year of high school? Thus, there is a tension that the modern world provides us with. We can utilize the massive amounts of amazing technology to export memorable images and live our lives behind a phone or camera lens, or we can just live and try as hard as we can to remember the incredible details of life that surround us that we might miss otherwise. Obviously everyone is going to live somewhere in between those extremes. But understanding that not many people could pick you out in all of the pictures that you have, might help us all start taking responsibility of our own memories again. I want to be able to remember my first child, and my tenth anniversary without having to look at photos, but I also want my kids and grandkids to be able to see how ridiculous I looked when I was a teenager. So we can only continue life fighting the tug of war between our own memory and snapping photos, but we do get to choose a side.


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