This article appears in July/August 2015 60-Plus.
I’ve never owned a video camera of any kind. Okay, so I’ve just been reminded that my cell phone gizmo has such a device, but having never used it I still qualify as a video virgin.
Sony introduced the first consumer camcorder in 1983, the year my youngest child was born. This made our family a prime target for being an early adapter in what became something of a video mania. Almost overnight a populist paparazzi were born where every dad (Why was it always the dads?) at every kindergarten holiday program was armed with a cinder-block-sized camera that instantly made him some kind of Fellini wanna-be.
I refused to join the Betamax Age because my makeup is one where I want to remember things the way I want to remember things—not necessarily how they actually happened.
Ample video of my kids’ childhood years exists from the cameras of extended family members, and a couple of clan get-togethers have been marred when some idiot got the bright idea that we should all watch old videos together. I’m sure any good shrink would have a field day getting inside my head, but the experience of viewing those picnics and parties and plays unfold on screen was…well, “disturbing” is not at all too powerful a word.
It’s not that I am a dispassionate stoic. For whatever weird reason, being confronted with a filmed retelling of events rearranges my mental furniture in an unsettling, almost visceral way.
That tyranny of memory has only grown over the years, and we’ve all witnessed the rise of the camera-obsessed malady I’ll call the Fear of Missing Out Syndrome. In a sickness typified by living vicariously through a viewfinder, it’s as if film, and only film, is capable of proving, even to ourselves, the existential reality of a person, place, or thing.
“I saw Pope Francis!” “I saw President Obama!” “I saw Garth Brooks!” people exclaim.
No, you didn’t. You saw only mere pixels while struggling to center a celebrity’s image on your camera. You had exactly the same experience I had when I saw almost identical footage on CNN or the local news, except that my experience was better in that it was rendered by seasoned videographers on professional equipment. You were there, but you weren’t there.
Just check out the June 15 Sports Illustrated cover online. Get my point?
Our society has become one of dim imaginations reflected in the even dimmer glows of electronic gadgets.
As some dude named Lord Acton once claimed, “History is not a burden on the memory, but an illumination of the soul.” I kinda dig that Lord Acton guy, even if his name sounds like a super-classy moniker for a faux-British-bad-guy rassler on WWE.
At least according to his lordship, I don’t have an almost pathological relationship with memory. I have an illuminated soul.