authentic media

Most people have a tremendous longing for something, a place in the past they wish they could have again, regret about a bad thing they’ve done, a wish for something that seems out of reach. You keep going ahead with your life in some way, but you have a “hungry backward look” (Phillip Roth’s phrase) towards when you were younger, or to someone beautiful, graceful, smart, etc. It’s a strong desire that feels necessary to ourselves, part of who we are, and at the same time probably impossible.
(Also, although I imagine this longing is universal and basic to being human, most people won’t admit this; they will tell you their sexual tastes and family problems first. That wish might seem greedy, or grandiose, inappropriate, or just plain ridiculous.)
The truth about these desires (I think everyone knows on some level), is that no matter what they are, they would not transform your life fundamentally — you would still be the person you are today, the person whose life has brought you to this point. What you actually want (I believe), is some way to re-experience a memory exactly as it was, or live the small vision you had in your head, the way you can play a CD or video again and again. But memories are mushy and indistinct, and fade (unevenly). Watching my daughter grow is breathtaking, not just because she’s so fabulously big now but also because realizing how fast she’s changing makes me a little panicky — the sweet baby part of her life is slipping away so quickly. The way that memory erodes is just like mediated experience: first comes the movie, then the spin-off sequel, then the TV series, each one less connected from the story and emotions that made it powerful at first. And the more you try to recapture the feeling, the more it gets away from you.
The cure for this is similar to when you are wrestling with any hard thing: write down some something, make lists, get whatever it is into a place where you are not just wrestling with your own thoughts and hearing them rattle around in your head. The cure, in fact, is for people to make more authentic, public media (photos, journals, podcasts, shoutouts, posts, tags, avatars, etc.); not imitations of professional media, not stagy fake material or imitations of other people’s stuff, but the small-scale, awkward, unselfconscious storytelling that comes naturally when you are talking to a friend. This kind of authentic media is in very short supply — in fact, most bloggers are doing the exact opposite, wanting attention and aspiring to manage some slick bullshit public persona.
The tools are available to reify and make public all the small, modest pieces of life, and cheaply. What you are doing when you do this is ultimately getting all the thoughts and memories out of your head and into a place where you can have some sort of perspective on them. If memories, and the memories and experiences of others, were out there and always available, they would for us what Portnoy’s Complaint and other books probably did for Roth: put him at peace with the sometimes conflicted, embarrassing, messy, but ultimately good person that he is.

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