9.07.2009

Memory Drive


A couple of years back, before Twitter entered the mainstream, I recall reading an article by an early adopter. He noted how interesting it was to follow avid Twitter-posting friends; microblogging had tapped into the subtleties of their lives via minute-by-minute details.

Our memories are finite, vacations and work stints and entire decades distilled down to fragments of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. But what if you recorded all of those sensations and thoughts - all of them - and could play them back at will? Like the accounts of those Twitter-posting friends, our lives would regain more of the richness they once had but which finite memories were unable to retain.

This appears to be the premise of Gordon Bell's work at Microsoft. Called "lifelogging," it entails documenting everything - taking photos and recording conversations, scanning receipts and mapping paths taken. Life is now searchable, each of its moments capturable.

Having just completed a re-read of one of my favorite Theodore Roosevelt biographies, Edmund Morris' "Theodore Rex," I am intrigued by such a level of documentation. TR sensed his greatness and seemed, even in the present, to be speaking and writing for posterity. Thanks to his attention to documentation, books like "Theodore Rex" can retell scenes from his life as if 100+ years had not passed by.

I have been blogging for six and a half years now, and I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have read my own stuff when in a pinch. I believe that every life is unspeakably interesting, infused by the Almighty with comedy and tragedy, meaning and purpose. And yet we miss so many lessons, so much insight, because we fail to remember; or, having remembered, we subsequently forget.

When I am struggling and can enter a keyword into my blog search and look back on different posts that I had written on a particular topic, it is one of God's ways of reminding me, "See, you and I have intersected on this issue before; and see how I knew best all along." Invariably, I resolve to myself that I ought to write more. No matter hackneyed and mundane a particular thought might be, if I write it down, I may have use for it later; but if I fail to write it down, it is lost forever.

Consider the following "equations," if you will. The first is inspired by Carol Burnett, the second by John McCain, and third is so universal I'm sure I'm not the first to have thought it:

1. Comedy = Tragedy + Time

2. Courageous Act = Fearful Moment + Inner Resolve + Time

3. Mom's Annoying Scoldings + One's Own Child + Time = Our Own Words to Live By

Notice how "time" features in all three equations. It is clear that the perspective that time brings infuses past moments with meaning and goodness. But if we fail to remember a moment, there is nothing for time and perspective to layer on top of. Conversely, if we capture the moment, we may just give ourselves the chance for time and perspective to show us what we could not have seen back then but that is crystal clear now.

I'm not sure that I have the time or resources to snap hundreds of photos and write dozens of posts each day. But I wish I did. And, absent actively documenting my moments, I will strive to at least be fully present for each of them, if not electronically filing them away then doing so mentally; for who knows what time, perspective, chance, and God will do with them down the road.
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