Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Time-stopping technology

Listen to the advertising for cameras, and it always boils down to two taglines: "Capture the moment. Share the magic." You take pictures (or video, as is much more common now) to preserve a moment in time, and to share that moment with others.

Ever since I was quite young, I always felt a little uneasy about this quest to "capture the moment." I'm not like my son, who usually resists all efforts to photograph him, nor like my grandmother, who actively removed and destroyed all photos of herself when she found them. I think they both, to different degrees, could not stand the self-consciousness induced by seeing themselves. But I feel is a certain futility in the quest. Even as young as ten, I remember seeing all the Kodak ads of smiling grandmothers mooning over photo albums, and thinking, "Is that all you get at the end of life? A big book of pictures? But that's not real."

I am a parent now, and I probably take as many pictures as the next guy. I do not think taking pictures is futile. I have no doubt that I will treasure these pictures the rest of my life. But philosophically, I do question the notion of life as one long effort to "capture moments." We have extended our greed for things into a more subtle form of materialism: a greed for experience. We want more experience, better experience, and we want to capture it, keep it, hold it. Most people believe they will be able to take those memories and experiences with them into the afterlife . . . after all, what's the point of living, if not to accumulate experience? Isn't that what God is doing here? Piling up mountains of Kodak moments, to hold forever in heaven?

We have all seen the zealous docu-moms and docu-dads, videotaping every birth and birthday and milestone. At times we admire them for their dedication to "capturing the moment." Perhaps their kids will appreciate it someday. But when I see such parents spending their lives stooped, walking backwards, and perpetually separated from their children by a viewfinder, I feel a visceral rejection. This is not what life is about. I imagine nobody is videotaping soccer games in heaven. If life is to have meaning, it must have its significance in the moment it is lived, and not only in retrospect. Memory is not the meaning of life.

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