Hear today. Gone tomorrow?Posted: July 29, 2013
“Let’s say the house was on fire or you were going to be buried or something. What’s the one thing you’d want to preserve?”
“Do you know something I don’t?” I joked, but it was a good question. Particularly for a 15-year old.
I thought about it. And thought about it some more. My mind played a bunch of non-specific film clips. The disconsolate Mom kneeling in the ashes of a charred baby album, face in hands. A wedding picture sucked up in a cyclone just seconds and inches from someone’s outstretched hand. A scrapbook soaked and stank on a muddy riverbed after the flood receded.
“I can’t think of anything,” I said honestly. Am I a heartless bastard? Do I lack emotional resonance? Perhaps.
I’m certainly a product of the age.
When I was fifteen I would have had many mementos to choose from. Partially, that’s teenage sentimentality and that feeling that everything was so very important. It’s also a byproduct of a different consciousness that’s been changed with the introduction of technology and the short shelf-life of most things. Back then stuff mattered. Physical stuff. To touch it. Smell it. Nearly everything was degrading from the moment you first beheld it. If not degrading, it certainly was changing. It was wrinkling, cracking, warping, rusting… Dying by another name. As a result you probably cherished it more. Little was truly disposable, but everything was only going to be with you for awhile at the same time. You had to make the most of your time together, you and your stuff, however long. In fact, in those days, every dog-ear, every scratch, every nick was “character.” Patina.
I had baseball cards. Shoe boxes and shoe boxes of baseball cards. I wasn’t one to put them in plastic sleeves inside three-ring binders. That was for the same kids that collected beetles. No, they were in no particular order but that’s not indicative of any neglect. Quite the contrary. Each of them, thousands ultimately, were reviewed and reviewed again, committed to memory like there’d be a test later. Oh the irony. If only actual test-prep came in the form of baseball cards. I might today be the doctor my mother always wanted me to be. When I turned about seventeen I sold them to some sleaze ball collector for a few hundred bucks. Not even a reach around. Sigh.
If I saw flames shooting out of my bedroom window at fifteen I would have gone for the baseball cards for sure.
Then there were records. Vinyl. More boxes equally stuffed in no particular order with hundreds and hundreds of records. Most of them were bought used and due to summer humidity or shoddy cardboard craftsmanship the covers were usually in some state of disintegration. I’d gingerly pull one out, throw it on, and then read the liner notes. Who engineered Sgt. Peppers? Geoff Emerick, dumbass. Don’t waste my time with child’s questions. Who were the horn players, the backup singers…all of it committed to memory. Again, why Calculus couldn’t be learned this way remains one of life’s great mysteries.
I definitely would have braved a crossfire hurricane to save my vinyl. Vinyl I gave away after college when it became apparent the CD was ‘way better.’
Just give me a minute…
Which brings us to the present. Photos? I can access them on my phone, iPad, laptop, home computer… They’re all in the cloud where presumably they’ll always be. If they were lost or stolen or otherwise destroyed, no problem. You can’t lose what you never really had.
The images will go on forever. The question is, were they ever really here?
Therein likes the dilemma.
My music? I have thousands albums-worth stored in the cloud where they were once stored in the closet. There’s nothing to burn. I don’t have them. I have access to them. Access whenever, wherever, however I choose. And it’s wonderful. Yet sometimes I wonder…
It’s good, right? Technology has made it possible for things to go on digitally where physical objects were once wrecked and ruined forever—gone when they were gone.
So why doesn’t it feel good?
This lightning storm
This tidal wave
This avalanche, I’m not afraid.
C’mon, c’mon no one can see me cry.
– REM “Imitation of Life”
I think people used to think that you got what you put into life. And what you got was real. Stuff. When you made partner you got the gold watch. You midlife crisis came with a convertible. When people asked for pictures of the grandkids you busted out your wallet for that one incomprehensibly bad picture with the polyester autumn backdrop.
Now we lease. Cars. Timeshares. Content.
Now we can access everything. And truly possess nothing.
Not to go all Buddhist on you but when you recognize that things will, never mind might, go away to the clouds and not come back in perfect replica from the cloud, you cherish them a bit more. You hold them more dear and more closely. You don’t multi-task as much. You focus intently. You value.
You run back into that house because your stuff’s not going up in cloud. It’s going up in smoke.