Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Death of Nostalgia

John and I had the good fortune of finding a spacious apartment when we moved in together in 2006. We were never forced to evaluate our belongings or to decide which items we should keep and that which we should let go.

In addition to having experienced an anti-consumer awakening in my 30s, we are moving into a much smaller place next week. Now, we are evaluating our belongings. We've been selling and donating, tossing and sorting. It's been a lot of work, but it is very cleansing.

I found myself going through albums whose yellowed pages I feared were damaging my photos. I had two albums filled with photos and memorabilia from the semester I spent in London in 1995. This experience had represented such a significant part of my life at the time I assembled these albums, but now I pulled photos from each page, amazed at how much time I had spent carefully assembling the books in the first place. Since then, I had traveled farther, experienced more, and found many of the things I was searching for.

At the same time, I am amazed at my reliance on photos as supplemental memory. Photos and trinkets have long functioned, for me, like an external hard drive — without them, my internal memories tend to me a bit limited. We get so used to our own photo collections that we aren't allowed to forget experiences that perhaps we would otherwise. I particularly notice this when looking through a friend's photos of a shared experience — a totally different perspective, and sometimes, a completely different memory.

I caught something on TV within the past year that discussed the ubiquitous video camera (and digital photos unlimited in number) in households with young children. The interviewer chatted with a very young girl about her "memories" of her childhood. She could recall events from her time as a wee toddler (she was 5, or so, now)! It became clear that this "memory" was false when she was asked if she remembered her family's trip to Disneyworld the year before. "No," she said, "My mom didn't bring the video camera."

I feel like there is a growing generation of people who "remember" things because they have been exposed to them repeatedly via some type of media. I have been a victim of this confusion, as well: I honestly don't know if I ever saw any of the "Schoolhouse Rocks" animated shorts when they were originally broadcast, or if my familiarity with them is the result of exposure to the infomercial via which the VHS collection was sold. Yet, I know the words to "I'm Just a Bill."

One of the reasons my husband and I connected so soon after we met is our over-knowledge of silly pop-culture stuff...bad actors, bad music lyrics, good cartoons. In fact, I formed an immediate bond with some of my closest friends over our shared knowledge of such things. John is 12 years older than I am, though, so we most certainly did not have the same type of exposure to these things. Where did I pick it up? Do I remember? Or do I "remember"?

It is possible to replay nearly any media event via YouTube. John has been able to bring some of his recollections to life for me via a quick internet search: Bobby Orr's Bruins, Go Go Gophers, Battle of the Network Stars. I have mostly found and replayed obscure Sesame Street clips that have long lurked in my mind: Be My Echo, Capital I, Lowercase N...and what I've found is that something is stolen from me as these fuzzy memories play so clearly on my screen. I want to keep the fuzziness, and I want to talk about the fuzziness with other people who have also retained the fond fuzziness of their life experiences. This fuzziness is nostalgia — warm, idealized, and unique — and I believe that we are being robbed of this human experience.

A similar blame can be assigned to social networking sites and maybe email, in general. I absolutely keep in touch with people that would have naturally distanced from my life long ago, if not for the ease and accessibility of email. I have found and subsequently gotten together with long-lost friends who I was never meant to see again. This is neither good nor bad, but it is undeniably unnatural.

I have a blog. I obviously find use in recording my experiences for all to see. I want to make clear, too, that there are many things that should be made increasingly accessible and clear, not left to distorted individual recollection and viewpoints (history, wars, etc). I am just proposing that we increase our sensitivity to the ramifications of over-accessibility — most significantly, the death of nostalgia.

No comments: