Sunday, August 29, 2010

Video Biographies: The new face of the 3R's?

You know you're getting along in years when they start making movies about events that took place in your lifetime. I got such a reality check during a recent sojourn to a local cinema. There were back-to-back trailers of two different movies about the start of the internet. And well, I realized that while I may still vividly remember a time without the worldwide web, to a lot of youngsters that just might seem ridiculous and unimaginable. Fancy that.

In the course of talking with people about their life stories and experiences, conversation inevitably veers toward technology - and the mammoth changes that each new development has brought with it. Some people speak of a time before central heating and cooling, before automobiles became accessible, and before color television made an appearance. Others talk of outhouses, and pickling and preserving fruit and vegetables in anticipation of a long winter.

This got me thinking about the changes that will take place (or have already taken place) in our own lifetimes. What will be the things that we talk about when we reflect on our lives and try to convey a sense of what used to be to our children and grandchildren?

There are bound to be a zillion different things that future generations will gawk at and consider us antiquated for, but one thing that really stands out for me is the act of reading and writing. Or rather, the mediums through which we do so. I grew up at a time when one took notes in class the old-fashioned way - using a paper and pen / pencil. In fact, when I graduated from using a pencil to a real honest-to-goodness ink pen, it was a rite of passage. I still remember my parents gifted me a beautiful, sleek Neptune-blue Parker pen to mark the occasion - turning me into a forever snob when it comes to pens of the ballpoint variety. But I veer away from my point! I grew up at a time when people still wrote... we knew not the modern ways of typing or touch-screens. It was a time when people still read real books - with paper and binding and hardcovers and paperbacks. Not e-books or electronic readers or computer screens. A recent article I read ( cited people predicting the death of physical books as we know them within the next 5 years. I don't look forward to that prospect and suspect that I shall metamorphose into a grumpy old lady stubbornly refusing to give in to the trend when the time comes, but who knows? Am I not here typing away merrily on my trusty notebook while waxing eloquent about the joys of 'real' reading and writing? What amazes me the most however is the ability of time to replace everything familiar with everything new... and that's why sharing stories and life experiences becomes so important.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Video Biographies: A photographic memory

Even if we're not always aware of the fact, each of us has a rich resource of personal archives. Stripped away of the fancy label, personal archives are things we're all very familiar with - photographs, letters, emails, floppy discs, bulky old computers from the '80s, VHS players from the '90s, unwieldy mobile phones from the beginning of the 2000s etc. They're anything that have stood witness to our lives, and that tell tales of their own... of the worlds in which they were born. And with each new invention and each new interest, some of the old have to make way for the new. Leading often times, to a great big mess. What to keep and what to discard? What could I get a few bucks for and what's totally lived its life? And while other objects may often find their way into Neverland, photographs emerge the most resilient form of personal archives... for who could ever show memories the door?

So they remain. In trunks, under the bed, in the attic, on the computer, in albums and on the wall... passed down from one generation to the other, inherited from one to the next... the legacy continues. But wait, what about the stories imprinted on these photographs? Sure I know who the people surrounding my parents in a photograph are, but will my children? Or theirs after them? Or will they be as clueless as I am when I sometimes have the good fortune of encountering some pictures from my grandparents' days?

It's important to label photographs. Make it a point to jot down these 3 things behind every picture - dates, names of the people and the location... it helps to fill in the blanks. My mother (58) recently called to tell me that she had gone to visit her mother (86) a few days ago and saw a picture of her grandmother for the first time that day. She only knew who it was because her mother told her so. And they smiled together at the resemblance they both shared with her. But what would have happened if this photograph had never made it into their conversation last weekend - and the legend never got passed down? We would have probably stared at the photograph uncomprehendingly years later, and who knows, maybe tossed it into the 'to throw' pile because we had no clue who the woman with the enigmatic smile was.

Yes, a lot of our pictures these days are digital. That shouldn't keep us from labeling them! Better yet, be sure to back up those photographs. A sudden virus attack or a technical failure on the part of the computer could instantly make a lifetime of memories disappear. Make prints. If not of all of them, then the ones closest to your heart. And they could be your backup too.

It's easier said than done. Not that it's an impossible task to do so or that this is something earth-shattering that has just been revealed but because it takes time... and it's always easy to put it off. Which is why we've all, at some point or the other, inherited hoards of pictures of 'strangers' and felt the double-edge of that sword. Which is why we need to organize ours even better. So that the next generation will feel closer to ours. And the cycle will continue.