I complain often about growing older, but it’s a joke I’ve taken too far. Truthfully, I couldn’t be happier to admit I’m old. If I could freeze time, I’d stop it here — old enough to have lived, young enough to still anticipate the future with nervous excitement. With age comes the ability to reflect, and the older I get, the swifter that ability turns to desire. Every new experience is an opportunity to place our memories in a new context.
I sold nearly all my CDs many years ago, but I hold onto a stash of discs, most of which are compilations made by friends and electronic releases circa late ’90s. I tend to forget this collection exists until once a year I rediscover them while digging through the depths of the closet for a long lost shoe. Then it’s all plans cancelled for the next several hours.
On their most recent resurfacing, hiding in the back of one of the CD wallets was a copy of June of 44‘s The Anatomy of Sharks EP that I’d purchased to commemorate my very first rock show. The show took place at the Black Cat in Washington, DC, and I must have been about 17 at the time. I had never heard of June of 44 (they weren’t riot grrrls), I went with a guy I met on AOL (I’ve forgotten his full screen name, at least one word was “indie” and another was “boy”), and I hated the show. I didn’t understand their music; whatever genre it was, I never wanted to listen to it again.
That same summer my best friend Sam and I borrowed his dad’s Mustang convertible and aimed it towards Lilith Fair — top down. It was a whirlwind weekend that cemented the pleasure of live music in my young head. For more than a decade, I’d fondly recounted Lilith Fair as both my very first big music festival, and my very first rock show. The years passed and my tastes broadened. I never grew into a fan of the math-rock that June of 44 were down with, but I now appreciate the genre for the same complexities that I didn’t understand as a teenager. Finding that Anatomy Of Sharks EP added a milestone to my memories that I’d forgotten ever happened.
We remember foremost the experiences with which we hold the strongest emotional bonds. These are our moments of greatest elation, and also of terrible sadness. At their best, they are relived in vivid daydreams and stories to pass on to our children. At their worst, they’re the cold-sweat nightmares we want to forget. They are delicate, able to be triggered by the the smallest detail; a sight, a smell, a particular shade of color. These memories archive themselves, born of the experiences that define who we become. With these indelible neuron connections, we need no memorabilia.
Our less definitive memories are more fluid, often lying dormant until sparked by a shared conversation or souvenir, then springing to life in grand new detail. They are the special occasions we chronicle and celebrate. I turn a certain age next month, and for those of us born in the late ’70s to early ’80s our formative history is a box of physical objects stored at the back of a closet. Action figures, favorite Nintendo games, albums of disposable camera photos, ticket stubs, flyers, magazines, VHS tapes and CDs; sometimes forgotten, refused to be parted with, full of joy.
But cherishing the physical is becoming a practice of the past. The framework of archiving memories has taken a turn towards the intangible and the un-box-up-able. All my photos now live on my phone; projected as momentary blips in an infinite feed of our shared digital lives. When I was 13, I had a diary with a rainbow on the cover and a teddy bear lock that I kept inside my pillow case, hoping my brother wouldn’t discover my embarrassing secrets and teenage mistakes. Now we warn one another of the dangers of sharing too much on Facebook due to potential employers being turned off. Most of my music collection is digital, I read online magazines, play games over social networks, and print my tickets out at home. I spend 75% of my waking hours on any given day connected.
I don’t worry for myself—I have my box in the closet—but I wonder what reminiscence will be like for the 12-year-old girl who hasn’t yet attended her very first rock show when she is my age. Will her Facebook photos and tweets be preserved? Would the thought even occur to revisit a single date of documentation on a platform updated by the second? I’m not sure it matters. By then, both services will have morphed into the next wave of social media three times over. I’d tell that girl to have a great time, tweet the night away, but on your way out buy something from the merch table. Your older self will be grateful for the memento.
I am 32. There, I said it. I am a member of a unique group of individuals. We are the bridge between the way the world was and how it will now be. We navigate the digital space with ease. We see possibility, and create experiences from information. We are the builders of the new culture, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that in the process permanence is not forgotten.