I wrote a love letter today, for myself. It wasn’t meant to be sent, but I wanted to mark a moment, a feeling; and I realized the only way to do so was to hold a pen in my hand and move it against paper.
Concrete evidence of the intangible.
And it got me thinking, about how things are noted, recorded, even kind of ‘lived’ now. We record so much of life through digital text. The records of my loves and heartbreaks for the last five years are mostly digital: photographs downloaded to a webpage. Courtship marked by e-mails. I would be hard put to find a record of interaction without plugging something in.
The history of this time period will be the same way. The concrete articles that mark what passes diminishes as more and more information can be passed quickly through a technological medium. Paper is inefficient, and it costs more… more resources, more money. There’s nothing lost by transferring a history to digital archive. Or is there?
I don’t have much first hand experience of oral narrative, but I know something was lost in the translation when people stopped handing down a legacy of spoken word to their children. Textual memory replaced the oral narrative a long time ago in most cultures, and this is considered beneficial; because exact facts could be saved and archived. History didn’t need to rely on faulty human memory or subjective translation to keep itself intact.
Well, yes it did, didn’t it? Information interpreted by the human brain never stops being subjective; it’s just the weight of ink behind a word tends to give it credence. But children lost something when the anchor of their family’s narrative stopped being passed down through their life. History is an anchor. When you know the stories that came before you, there is a greater sense of belonging and place. In the face of so much future and so little past, I think most people feel lost.
Text brought a lot in the door, but took a price with it. Other stories opened up. Other people’s histories and imaginings became accessible to everyone. This is still amazing; to have the world so easily accessible.
Now with the information age there is an overwhelming mass of experience, information and personal narrative to explore. So much so, that the openness of information has lead to less exploration. It’s always there. There is so much. People have to cut a small path through the forest of words or be lost in it. There is a lethargy that accompanies those who have great privilege, but lack that sense of responsibility that comes as a natural result from holding your family’s history close to your heart.
It’s weird how cyclical our ‘progress’ ends up being. The cutting edge of technology brought back antiquated art-forms, nearly extinct since the rise of the telephone: letter writing (email), and the slow developing of acquaintance with strangers. It also allowed the rekindling of conversation for pleasure.
Technology and convenience lead the American family to become isolated from the congenial days when friends would travel and visit each other for a fort-night, or linger over a repast for three hours. The drive to achieve took care of that. Efficiency supplanted connection. The nuclear family evolved, a small, self-sufficient unit who could learn their news from the television set. Mothers apologizing to the neighbors for lingering in the doorway for too long a chat. “I must get busy, the day’s half over.”
Families became more and more isolated, sending their elderly away to old homes; their children off to day long education at an earlier and earlier age, until now, suddenly (well, not so suddenly) the art of acquaintance is rekindling over the world wide web.
What is this, a blog? A diary, maybe, but also a community. If I’m interested in reading and being read I will go and ‘visit’ a new contact, and leave my calling card, a comment. If that person is curious, they may visit in return. A courteous exchange takes place, and over time we develop an acquaintance. In small increments my time spent in the company of their words increases, till one day, I may have spent a week or a month in their company, simply because I enjoy that person’s outlook.
A full circle scenario… but again, without their facial expression, without a good meal between us, something has been lost in the translation.
And I feel the need today to take pen in hand and write my feelings down. An exercise in concrete reasoning. I have no ‘use’ for this piece of paper, except to hold onto and remember. In this era of the gigabyte, while I lean further into the electronic hum of impermanent information, this piece of paper for me symbolizes solid ground.