Do you remember home movies? The old silent ones; with the children acting goofy for the camera and the mother shooing away the cameraman/husband. Even if you never saw one of these in real life you’ve seen them in film or television. One of the more lovely and touching is in the film Adam’s Rib; with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy frolicking around their farm. Knowing just a bit about the actors we feel as if we’re watching an actual home movie. Where have they gone these capsules of family life? One need only attend a child’s recital or traipse through Time Square to know that parents are recording every single moment. But then what? Does the family actually gather around the home screen and watch the footage? The same family who reportedly does not have time for family dinners? Somewhat doubtful, no? Are the moving images sent to family in distant places? Do the videos simply find a resting place on social media? And what of all the moving images taken of stationary objects? What happens to all that statue footage? Has the very act of capturing an event become the end point?
A cluster of people holding up their cellphones is now the universal sign of; “Everybody look what’s going down.” What’s going down could be celebrity in nature and a captured photo or moving image proves you were in proximity. Nowhere is this more evident than in large-scale events. Stadiums are filled with flashing (!) phones. It doesn’t matter that the photo will be so fuzzy as to always need a description attached. It is how we now record (in every way) an experience. It is somewhat reminiscent of tokens once collected; autographs, ticket stubs, crushed cocktail napkins and matchbooks. Scrapbooks, or for the less sentimental or organized, dresser drawers, were once filled with these reminders. One could look at a browned curled remnant of a corsage and conjure a magical evening. The rusty tetanus wielding protest pin reminds us of that chaotic, exhilarating march. A photo or video can evoke those memories as well. But sooner or later what we tend to remember is the photo or the video. Our own mental imagery fades as the recorded image stakes its claim.
And what of the recording? Is it possible to actually have any experience beyond that of cinematographer? Do we actually experience our child’s soccer game, dance performance, birthday party? Or are we simply recording it in the hope of ‘making memories’ for them? What does it mean to ‘make a memory’ and why would we pursue it? Memories are organic. A healthy brain remembers what is meaningful to the individual and (mercifully) often blocks what is too much to bear. The impulse to ‘create memories’ can be a bit creepy. A future memory is not only an oxymoron it’s an abstraction. Being consumed by an abstraction versus being present in the moment is not desirable. How people (including children) are experiencing something in the here and now is far more pressing than anything out in the ether. Being a recorder means disengagement. A court reporter is not participating in the proceedings or even processing any of the analysis. They are recording what others are experiencing (at lightening speed.) A photo or two doesn’t prevent engaging fully in an experience. But chances are a party of eight, photographing each and every course and individual serving doesn’t have the makings of a night to remember.