Monday, August 31, 2009
Thanks for sending the memory
A pic of me and John, courtesy of Marstall's (new) iPhone.
I like how pictures taken on an iPhone always already resemble a memory, like there's a built-in nostalgia filter. You can imagine showing it to your kids in 15 years: "This is us back in the '10s. Or wait, honey was this 2009?"
I keep seeing articles (and "lyric essays") lately about our new understanding of memory, how recent research shows a memory's not, as we previously thought, something like a physical etching on the brain, something hard-wired and semi-permanent. On the contrary memories are easily manipulated or faked. (This turns out to be a good thing for sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder.) Accessing a memory isn't like going back again and again to the same photograph, but rather like making a copy of a copy, so each time it's closer to the previous version than the original. This is so evocative, the number of novels and poems currently being written about it must be staggering.
I wonder if this is related to how I like movies from my childhood way more than movies I see now. (I'm watching Stand By Me with John tonight; he's never seen it before!) Books too. Am I gilding those memories each time I access them? I think it's more the thing about relative experience. I hadn't read as many books when I was 9 so a new, good book stood out way more. It wasn't that hard for something to take over the #1 slot and become my favorite book. Now I have trouble even naming a favorite.
Nothing impresses me all that much anymore. I can almost always think of something from my past that was just as good or better. One of the only ways to experience that old surge of awe and reverence is to have a new kind of experience. I felt that way about the Rodrigo Toscano/Collapsible Poetics Theater "reading" I saw a year or so ago in New York; it was not like any poetry reading, or any play, I'd ever seen; it was awesome. Unfortunately, or fortunately for my loved ones, I'm pretty risk-averse (and discomfort-averse), so I don't go out seeking new experiences a la skydiving and ice fishing. And society is short of forms of entertainment that are both novel and safe. It's all the same, movies, museums, snooze-a-rama.
Free plot idea for science fiction writers: In a futuristic/alternative world, a jaded character like me is given the option (via some kind of drug) to temporarily erase most of their current memories before an entertainment-type experience (like a film), so they have less to compare it to and can get bigger thrills. Of course, this goes wrong and I can't get the memories back or whatever. I realize this is a variation on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and to an extent, Total Recall. But with a twist!