Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Do you remember when ...

I love my mindful existence, which is why I tend to even remember events and people that I should have forgotten for my own well-being. 

Memories.  As the fellow-traveler in Costa Rica remarked, "when you are lying nearing your death, you cannot take your car or house or clothes.  You have only your memories with you when dying."

These days, thanks to technology, people think they are creating lots of memories when they take a gazillion photos and share with a gazillion friends via the gazillion social media platforms.  But, are they really memories?  Or is that mindless documentation?

In the old days, when we rarely took photographs, we were later able to recall the emotions of the moments when that was clicked.  A family group photo triggers various memories from that day.  The photo from a trip decades ago practically brings back the smells and sounds of the place. If you were nude sunbathing back in the day, then it was definitely a rare photo, before this age of nude-selfies and sexting.  Every one pretty much knows when those clicks happened.  Heck, we remember plenty that were never even photographed, right?

So, yes, the mere fact that a lot more photographs are being taken now does not mean that more memories are being created.  That is mere documentation.  And it is virtual.  To make things worse, what happens to all those virtual memories?
Every day about 300m digital photographs, more than 100 terabytes’ worth, are uploaded to Facebook. An estimated 204m emails are sent every minute and, with 5bn mobile devices in existence, the generation of new content looks set to continue its rapid growth.  ... Yet we overlook — at our peril — just how unstable and transient much of this information is.
I bet you have experienced that "transient nature" yourself when the site or the link does not exist anymore, or when whatever you had saved a while ago cannot be opened by the new software.  What happens to your "memory" in that case? 
The first step to forming a lasting memory is to pay attention. Without attention, our brains won’t store the sensations we experience in the world around us.
The brain stores long-term memories by linking neurons. The stronger the memory, the stronger the connections. These neurological connections link all the sensations that form a memory: what a scene looked like, what it felt like, what it smelled like.
But if we’re not paying attention — if we’re not even getting information into our short-term memories — nothing will be stored long term in our brains.
Duh!  I have been saying these for a while now.
At the end of the day, it’s just hard to know what the optimal balance of internal memory and tech-aided memory should be.
But if we want to hold on to certain memories, it’s going to take some mental effort. It means paying closer attention to our surroundings. It means using our cameras mindfully to focus on the details we truly want to remember.
It means putting down the camera for a few moments to notice what the air feels like, what the streets smell like, and writing down our feelings about being there.
Smartphones can help with this process: They can store information and serve as memory cues to help us retrieve it later on. But we can’t offload everything to them.
The more technology keeps developing new things, the more I am inclined to make sure I will have the real, tangible, documentation to augment my memories.  Still, I take comfort--even delight--in the fact that most of my memories are secure in a vault in my brain.  I will take those memories with me in slightly more than two decades.  You can try to make sense of the virtual memories that I will leave behind ;)