I turned 34 last month. It pissed me off a bit, I don’t like getting older, so I don’t like my birthdays. I wish Facebook would forget, and not tell all my friends that it’s my birthday.
I have lots of lovely friends, who all wished me ‘Happy Birthday’. They meant well, but I think I’d have liked to forget it was my birthday, I’d have found it easier to keep up my internal lie that I’m somehow magic and not aging like everyone else.
I wish people would say “Happy Tuesday” instead of “hello”. Let’s have some happy on a day that doesn’t force me to come face to face with the truth that I exited my sweet old mam’s vagina on this exact day three and a half decades ago.
Nearly three and a half decades ago.
See? This is what I mean; I’m far too worried about counting the years. I’d love to be unaware of exactly how old I was. I’m actually aging well, mainly due to a diet high in preservatives and a pathological fear of sunlight. I shouldn’t be worried about exactly how many years have gone past.
I remember talking to my Grandmother when I was a child and being amazed at how much she could remember from her life. My Grandmother ( I called her Nanny) had a good memory and was a natural storyteller. I’m not saying she told lies, but where her memory was sketchy, her brain would quickly fill in the gaps. Who cares about tiny details in the story of old memories anyway?
It made her interesting to talk to, and sometimes she would become excited by a memory, something stirring that hadn’t been considered for years. Nanny remembered big events, like birthdays and holidays and weddings, but she also had little memories, of tiny human moments.
There was one time when Nanny remembered something, I can’t even recall what we were talking about, but it was from a long time ago and it made her cry. I had nothing to say on the topic, I remember that much, so I held her hand, and I don’t know why, but I started crying too. It was an incredibly intimate moment, one of my favourites in my life. Sometimes, when I really miss my Nanny, that’s the memory I go to, and, sometimes, I cry again.
I can’t say this brought Nanny and I closer, we were already very close. We never mentioned it again, but I’m sure she thought of it too. I like to think that our moment together made the initial sad memory happier somehow; it’s a happy memory for me, tears or not.
Time is a wonderful healer, mainly because things happen in time, and things change how we feel about things. Keeping up with this erudite academia? Good.
Our brains are pretty clever, and they store memories in a way that means those memories will change with time. A computer is often used as an analogy for a human brain, and that makes a lot of sense, but computers don’t change what they remember. A computer stores information in one place, and yanks it out in one chunk on request.
Our brains don’t work like that, information is stored in different places, and when we recall a memory, we pull bits of info from all those places, essentially ‘reforming’ the memory as we experience it.
Remembering something changes it, that’s why time is such a great healer. Painful memories can be softened, moulded and ever so slightly altered, so they hurt less. New information is tangled up with old memories, making them less powerful. Just imagine if you could never forget heartbreak, or grief, and that every moment was as painful as the first time you felt it. We’d all be a complete mess!
My Nanny never joined the technological revolution. There’s not even many of photos of her, let alone any Youtube videos, Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. On one hand I’d love to see a video of my Nanny now, but one that ties in with my memories, not one of her pissed up and swearing at a Reverend Father (my Nanny never did this, or, if she did, I don’t want to know about it).
I was having a chat with a young lad who turned eighteen in March. He was telling me that his Dad was trying to make him watch a video of himself being born, which the lad didn’t want to do. I’m usually direct to the point, so I asked him:
“Is it that you don’t want to see your mum’s minge?” and he replied:
“Yes. But not just that. What if I end up actually remembering it? If I was supposed to remember it, I’d remember it. Like I remember where I live, or my name and stuff. What if I remember what it’s like to be born? That is not right.”
And he’s not wrong.
Digital memory is an actual thing; it’s starkly accurate and it’s a weird way to access memories.
When you talk to someone, and something about the conversation reactivates a memory for you, you start thinking about that memory from that exact angle. There won’t be any focus on any particular part of a memory, whichever parts are most relevant will just sneak back into your thoughts. Some of it won’t be accurate because that’s the way human memory works.
When you look at a photograph, or a video, you’re seeing absolute reality, where as a memory always includes a pinch of imagination. We seem to be doing very well at creating a digital bank of really inarguable memories that are not real memories at all. They are snapshots of fact, and I’m not convinced they are helpful.
A photo of me popped up on FaceBalls the other day, and I had no memory of it. It wasn’t an embarrassing photo; not that I’m easily embarrassed, just statistically it must only be a matter of time until I appear on an “eating on a train” website. I long for the celebrity.
In this unrecalled moment, I was in the background talking to someone I have no actual memory of talking to. I remember her being there, now I’ve seen the photo I think I remember her face, but I’m not sure. I looked emphatic in the photo, but I cannot recall talking to that girl at all. That photo is a memory that I don’t have, and obviously don’t need, but forgetting it has worried me; a digital memory reminded me to worry about forgetting.
Sometimes, we need to forget things. We need to move on, we need to stop being reminded. Our natural memory is largely outside our control. We can work to improve certain types of memory, but there is not much we can do to force our natural memory to forget. There’s only so far drink and drugs can take us before they do more damage than good, and it’s not that far.
Our digital memory is more within our control, and we should take control of it, especially where it puts our natural memory at risk.
I am getting over someone, someone I thought that I loved . That’s hardly unique, everyone has had to do that, right? It seems to have taken me a disproportionate amount of time, and I’m convinced that photographs and internet access to new details about a person I need to forget has seriously hindered my progress.
I decided to press the delete button on my digital memory about a month ago, it has taken some serious will-power, but it has definitely helped. I have deleted all photos of this person, all their messages and voice recordings, every trace of them on my technology has finally gone. It’s been a mission, because things keep popping up, but I just keep on pressing ‘delete’.
Some days, I’ve missed having these digital recollections, but now, instead of looking at a picture of us smiling and happy when I think I miss this person, I remember why I want to forget instead. It is helpful not to revert to an old version of me contained within a photograph, the computer can only remember it one way, and I’ve had new information since then; those memories need changing.
The person I want to forget feels much more distant than they did a month ago, and that is how it should be. Eventually, they will be no more than a footnote in my story, part of the history of a growing character rather than a fact in an unchanging digital documentary. My memories are becoming what they should be, vague apparitions of the truth, filtered through my imagination. My memories have been improved by helping myself to forget.
Technology appears to make everything easier, but in the case of memory, I don’t believe it does. We’re designed to forget things, to leave things behind, digital memory is designed to remember everything, forever, which in some examples of human emotion, is far too inhumane.
One of the most important components of human memory is the ability to forget, and we should all regularly remind ourselves to remember that.