Phones and Photographs

(Dinosaur Comics) Well, I don't know about felt either, but if I ever
need to, it's all there online. Treat the internet like offline storage
waiting to be loaded into your active memory, and there's not much you
can't potentially know! / That's a great way of looking at it! I'm a
cyborg and the internet is part of my GIANT BRAIN!...What the heck, my
giant brain has been down for like THREE HOURS!! This might be...THE

Often times people will decry the loss of basic math skills, thanks to the widespread use of calculators, or basic knowledge, thanks to the easy accessibility of the Internet. To some degree these are both true, and to some degree it is also true that, yes, you can get away without memorizing facts and being good at mental or paper arithmetic in the modern world, and not be a worse person for it. (Take it to its logical progression, though, and you get…“The Feeling of Power” by Isaac Asimov. Don’t worry, it’s short.)

What worries me, though, is our loss of memory skills. Not for the useless facts, like in what year James Polk died, but practical stuff we use all the time but happen to have shortcuts for. What I’m thinking of mainly is the simple cell phone address book. For people you don’t call often, it’s perfect…no need to manage a separate book apart from your phone, or keep track of little slips of paper.

But for people you call frequently, it’s not too hard to learn a phone number…and if you ever lose your cell phone and need to borrow someone else’s, you better have the number you want to call memorized! To this end, I’ve been on-and-off trying to memorize one of my apartmentmates’ numbers each time I call her. So far all I have reliably is the area code. This is not a good thing. I only have like 4 phone numbers memorized besides my immediate family’s.

What’s even worse, though, are photographs. I’m not a particularly image-based person: I usually don’t form full visual images when I read (and I read a lot), and I don’t form strong visual memories either. It’s more of an impression of the position and situation, lighting and maybe some color, rather than definite shapes. With emotions and stuff layered on top, of course. I think I’m probably more in tune with sounds, but I haven’t thought about that too much.

Photographs are a problem because I form fake memories with them. If I try to recall a place or situation, especially from my early childhood, I’ll get a photograph’s representation of the place. Very quickly I’ll realize it was wrong, because the angle is from the height of at least a middle schooler, if not an adult. I don’t think this is just adjustment, because every now and then I’ll find a memory that’s actually from the height/perspective I was at the time. (My memories are not well-organized.)

Okay, it’s not just photos. This has happened occasionally when I come back to a place later in life, like my kindergarten classroom: a place I have few memories of now, so the picture I have as a middle schooler can move to the foreground. BUT, when there are photos of an event, that’s what I remember. Image-wise, anyway. It’s hard for me to keep up my own mental images, impressionistic as they may be, when there are clear photos right in front of me.

I guess having any sort of reference helps, such as the ticket stub in my wallet that I used for one of my first TR theatre practice games. Because I still have it, I still remember the game. But if I hadn’t kept the ticket, I’d have forgotten the activity by now. How much have I forgotten, just because there was nothing to hold on to?

It’s worse for photos, though. Some of my memory-images have me in them. That’s obviously not right.

It’s not so concrete. But it is happening—it’s harder to remember the moments between the pictures than what was actually captured on camera. And I’m not happy about that.

So, one way this applies to recent life. The video recording of my performance in our last Theatre Rice show was lost (due to my own stupidity). But maybe this means instead of the view the audience had, I’ll remember running on with Rosa, and looking out at the audience from the stage of Zellerbach Playhouse.