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On Living With the Past

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by skip.knox, Sep 13, 2021.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I turn 70 tomorrow, 14 September. Same day Emperor Augustus died. I've been in a reflective mood (easier than editing) and was struck by a unique aspect of my generation and younger ones, specifically how accessible is our own past.

    The generation before me had fragments. They had fading photographs. Newspapers and magazines that they held onto--to do more would require a visit to a library or some public office. They could watch old movies, listen to old records.

    For my generation there is an avalanche of documentaries, concerning darn near every aspect of life from the 1950s down to today. The entire soundtrack of our lives is at our fingertips. We don't have to wait for an old movie to come to a local theater, we can stream it on demand. In short, we can do more than just revisit our past, we can explore facets that we missed the first time round. I've learned far more about the rock bands of my youth than I ever knew at the time.

    And it's more than just a recollection of the past. It's visceral. It's sights and sounds. No earlier generation had this. For most of humanity, the past was a set of legends and family stories, often recounted only on certain events. It feels strange to think what it must have been like, to have so much of one's life slip downstream like a river, where the details of the past are a thin echo.

    With VR and AR and AI, and acronyms yet to be invented, this trend can only continue. I'm not sure what all this signifies. I'm just strumming a chord.
     
    Ned Marcus likes this.
  2. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    But the past was just as accessible for your parents (my grandparents) generation and those before them. It was just not in the form of documentaries and films. I can still recall most of the stories my grandmother told me, about the family, about the areas around our farm, about people she'd known, about people her mother had known. She could tell me about the great falls in the river before they dammed it and built the big power station. My mother too tells stories. And both knew lots of legends, myths, folk tales and old folk songs. I'm not sure I'd call any of that a thin echo.
     
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    In comparison with the current volume, that's how it struck me. Also, what earlier generations got was largely what their elders told them, along with personal memories. Today we get much that is not filtered through the eyes and mouths of grandparents. The current generation gets those myths, folk tales, family stories *in addition* to the cornucopia of online information. Feels very different to me. Especially as I've recently lost some of that previous generation, my parental generation, and seen close-up what they had, what they preserved.

    Even preservation itself is different. Going through my father-in-laws possessions, my mom's stuff, it really was mainly what was in drawers and boxes. But much of what I leave is in electronic form and is highly scattered. I don't know of any way to put it all into a box, as it were. Forum posts, web sites, music recordings on CDs. The online classes I developed back in the 1990s were irretrievably lost when my university refused to archive them. I copied the sites, of course, but it would require putting up a web server to see them again, and the discussion forums that went with them are of course gone. In the old days, I'd have it all on paper. I still remember my major professor giving me a copy of her class lecture notes, all mimeographed. Powerpoint files just don't have the same level of detail.

    Plus la change, of course. I'm not bemoaning anything, just observing.
     
  4. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

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    I love this topic skip.knoxskip.knox . First, to answer your last concern, have you tried accessing your stuff through the Way Back Machine? It's an internet archive that goes back pretty far. I just used it to check on a game site I used to play back in 2003. See if it captured your site.

    As for the grander question, I honestly believe we live less in our pasts nowadays because of the immediacy of our memories. Videos, pictures, text messages, Facebook posts, etc are all there. Memory isn't permitted to do its intended purpose, to strip away the immediate truths to reveal the personal ones. After all, how are stories as Mad SwedeMad Swede suggested shaped into the legends and myths they become? What are legends and myths if not a medium for revealing greater truths than words used in shaping them?

    I am still blessed to have a grandmother who is near 90. She lived in a time and place before electricity, before photography was common. Whenever she views one of those old photos, her vision turns inward to relieve the memory of her heart. I envy that. She is the most genuine person I know. I feel that society could use with a little digital cleansing.
     
  5. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    Happy Birthday skip.knoxskip.knox !

    I think it works both ways. We have a lot more information available, which makes going back to certain moments easier. At the same time, it has gotten to the point where it has become too much in a sense. I travelled Australia for a year in 2001, just before digitale cameras became common and good enough to replace analogue cameras. Since I was on a budget, and film is expensive, I had to think about each photograph I took. I still took an awful lot, but thought went into each of those photos. Also, I probably took as many in a year as I could now take during a 3 week holiday. It has just become an avalanche of information.

    At the same time, digital doesn't hold the same power. It has become a lot more fleeting. Those photo's I took, I can hold them in my hand and go through them. That's a very different experience from just clicking through them on a screen (where they usually just sit, forgotten).

    A different thing is that with all the information available, story telling has become less of a thing. My father turned 70 this year as well, and I would love to hear more stories about what it was like for him, to grow up before TV was really a thing or when to make a phonecall you had to go to a shop at the end of your street.

    So, we gained a lot, but at the same time I feel it has become more academic and less personal. I don't know if you have kids / grandkids Skip, but if you do, go bore them with stories about your past. They'll thank you for them later :)
     
  6. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    Except that all those documentaries and films, all that online information, are also filtered - by their editors and creators. The difference is that we don't know them in the way that we know or knew our parents and grandparents. I'm also not sure that the current generation get all the old folk tales and family tales. I know my children do, but do others? Not everyone sees the need to preserve the past.

    Yes, but even in the old days the discussions we had in class and in the bar afterwards weren't recorded. It was one of the joys of such discussions, you weren't suppsoed to attribute comments so that the discussion could be free and challenging. What price that now, on line?
     
  7. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    Seeing some of the comments here makes me think a bit.

    I'm in my mid-fifties and I grew up on a farm, a very typical small family farm in Sweden. My grandfather didn't buy his first tractor until I was three - until then he used horses on the farm, and those horses were around for some years after he got the tractor. We didn't have an inside toilet and bathroom until I was nine. The kitchen range was used for both cooking and heating the hot water, and there were porcelain stoves in many of the rooms for extra heat. All fired with wood, which I had to chop as one of my summer tasks (in addition to the more obvious ones like herding cattle down from the fields for milking, collecting eggs from the hens etc) Yes, we had electricity - except when it snowed hard (often,in winter) when the power was out for a few days. Our farm wasn't unusual, many of my former army colleagues grew up on similar farms. For us, this was normal. Yet when we tell youngsters this sort of thing they look at us like we're from the stone age. Maybe we are?
     
  8. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    Yes, you are...

    I remember chatting with one of my nephews, who is something like 5 years younger. Not a lot, but it makes a huge difference in how we experience computers. When I told him I used to play computer games I had to load from cassette tapes he looked at me like I came from another planet. Same with actually using floppy disks. I remember the first mobile phones coming into use and how perception slowly changed around them from "I don't want to be seen with this thing" to "I need to have it with me at all times".

    We consider anything which happened before something like age 11 to be the way the world has always been, while stuff which came after retains a certain new-ish feel.
     
  9. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    My biggest concern is that technology perversely might keep the future from happening.

    What I mean is that, well, lots of things were forgotten, or dimmed well enough to be written over. That's the way it used to be. No matter how much some people wanted to hold onto the past, even keep living the past, the normal passage of time erased the past. Advancement, evolution, change could still happen.

    It still can, of course. But I worry that forward movement might be inhibited because the past endures so well thanks to technology. The future might be even worse, if life spans continue to increase along with even more compelling forms of record. (People living in virtual recreations of the world?)

    I wonder if the sequel-itis of Hollywood is now a mere warning bell of what's to come.
     
  10. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

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    Really got to dig into those classic films. Hollywood's been throwing sequels of their movies since the beginning. How else did we end up with the likes of the Bride of Frankenstein? Same goes for their reboots. Not like they've rebooted King Kong and Godzilla over a dozen times and thrown in sequels. No different then the various books that ended up with various sequel sorts written by different authors or what can amount to fan fiction of various legends and the like being incorporated into the stories. From Lancelot being a French addition to the Arthurian mythos and the various Sherlock Holmes takes.
     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >We consider anything which happened before something like age 11 to be the way the world has always been
    Difference between memory and history. Round about that age, we start to have a narrative to our life, which we can recall. Prior to that, and it's not a clear line, memories are fragmentary. In a fairly useful sense, our memory starts around age 12; before, it's mainly snapshots and vignettes.
     
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >Hollywood's been throwing sequels of their movies since the beginning.
    True true, though remakes were more common than actual sequels. Plenty of movies we think of as classics had an earlier version.

    I'm not too concerned about overwriting the past. For one thing, there are many, many pasts. Even our own personal past gets different treatments, depending on who is doing the remembering. For another, writing has been around for a very long time. Format is different, and there've been arguments that that matters (Barbara Eisenstein, e.g.). The media are certainly different, and newer writers have argued that has made a difference.

    I don't think the quantity matters, as there's only so much material a person can absorb in a single lifetime. A couple of generations ago, it was possible for a classics scholar to have read everything ever written in ancient Greece and Rome. Newer discoveries have moved that out of reach, but it was a thing classicists sometimes pointed to. They could get their arms around the sources in a way historians of later eras could not. All we could do (I'm a medievalist) was to specialize in fairly narrow areas. A modern person, scholar or otherwise, can barely drain a cup or two out of the information ocean over the course of a lifetime. Once the quantity is too much, "more" tends to lose significance.

    Which leaves accessibility. That's what strikes me. Not all that long ago, getting access to, say, a 19thc book meant having access to a specialized library (which already puts me in a tiny minority) and then being able physically to travel to that book's location. That sort of thing is becoming increasingly available to anyone with an internet connection and sufficient interest to search it out.

    To return to the personal, I have a spreadsheet where I have compiled a chronology of my own life. Music, movies, books, and people (that latter only records year of death for people who are of interest to me). It has significance only to myself, really, but it adds texture to my own recollections and my own perception of my life. And it would have been such a huge pain to assemble prior to the internet that not only would I have not done it, the notion would not have occurred to me (as indeed it did not). I could add pictures and video to that; I don't have the ambition to do so, but it's as readily available as the other material.

    So, in addition to the traditional sense of self and perception of the past, I can add these other views. I can look back with an ease my ancestors could not. For the most part, they had whatever was handed to them, whereas we now have whatever we take the time to go get. That feels like a richer sort of life.
     
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