I was reminded of that moment the other evening when I attended my Grade 1 son's music night. The kids who were in the audience twenty years ago were now the parents of the performers on-stage. This time however, instead of raising their lighters in tribute, the room was lit by a sea of raised cell-phones as they made digital recordings of "Teddy Bears' Picnic" and "Heigh-ho, heigh-ho". It was a snapshot of how much society has changed in such a short span of time. We are living in one of the most recorded societies that has ever existed. There isn't an event, or vista, or moment in time that isn't clicked and stored by someone's personal device. Current events, the next generation's history, are preserved in graphic detail by a global media that hungers for the next eye-catching spectacle or quotable sound bite. In all this recording, a lot is saved and preserved but I have to stop and wonder about what is being lost.
Yesterday was my Mom's 90th birthday (that's her on the right). Her Dad, my grandfather, fought in the trenches in World War I and occasionally shared snippets with us kids when I was growing up. There are brown-hued film clips and stills of those events, but the real essence that we are left with about those long ago events was in the story-telling, not in the graphic images, and I now regret that I didn't pry more out of my grandfather when I had the chance. A fact of which I was graphically reminded yesterday.
Like I said, it was my Mom's birthday. We had a lovely luncheon in her honour at my cousin's house which commands a beautiful view of the Strait of Georgia on one side and Horseshoe Bay on the other. Seated at the head of the table was my Uncle Dick, my Mom's "kid brother" (a spry 88 - seen in this 1944 photo) who riveted us to our seats with stories about his years flying a Lancaster bomber over Burma and Malaysia during World War II. He also presented my brother and I with copies of a personal journal of his memoirs about those days. Now, I am a historian and have taught and written books about World War II. I have read detailed accounts, watched a raft of films, and studied volumes of original documents. But in that hour around the lunch table I realized that I knew nothing about what it was really like.
Will that be what it is like for our own children? We capture millions of hours of footage digitally and store it somewhere. Will anyone ever look at it again? We post our day to day experiences on Facebook, I read accounts of the doings of my grandchildren and see their fleeting images as they get pushed farther down the page, replaced by someone telling me to stare at a picture and hit "like" if I see the Mona Lisa grinning out of a pile of cheese. I get bombarded with 140 character comments on the world which get buried under a hundred others within an hour. We are so busy recording and commenting that I am afraid that we have stopped really communicating. Schools and families are very much alike. We do a great job of recording and celebrating events, but we need to spend more time sharing stories.
So here is my vow in honour of my Mom's birthday. I will talk to her more often about her memories, not of great world events, but of her own personal experiences. I will regale my own kids and grandchildren (not that I need that much encouragement!) with stories of my own about growing up in a world that is very different from theirs. I will comment less, and communicate more.