What’s Seen and Unseen

Since the beginning of time, humans have tried to create an external hard drive of sorts — from cave paintings to graffiti — as evidence of their time on earth


Tonight, I get a memory transplant.

Household lifeblood will journey from one laptop computer to a slimmer version of a new generation, which feels a bit like heaving treasured family photo albums, a record collection, and letters from one lifeboat to another and hoping they don’t land in the drink.

Each of us is a walking, talking individual time capsule. But since the beginning of time, humans have tried to create an external hard drive of sorts — from cave paintings to graffiti — as evidence of their time on earth, sometimes going to extremes in that effort.

Consider the so-sad news that came to us from Canada. A bride posing in a Quebec river in her wedding-day finery as part of a trend called “trash the dress,” was swept away when her voluminous gown was engorged by water. The photographer hired to preserve the day was unable to save her life.

The needless death of that new bride was, in small part, tragic fallout of our fascination with documenting our existence.
Facebook? Click. Twitter? Click. Pinterest? Click. Shutterfly? Click. Click. Click.

Little ones, who might otherwise be blissfully unaware of onlookers, quickly learn to mug with gritted-teeth smiles for hovering parents busily capturing every moment with omnipresent phones. Click. Send.

That’s understandable, of course. Time — and childhood — evaporate with heartbreaking speed.

In film terms, there’s a “negative” side to our frenzied photo taking: Are we unlearning the ability to commit a memory to our mental storehouse, where it can be retrieved and “viewed” at will?

Do visuals translate to knowledge? In our recent political-convention season, we saw political wives in profile as they adoringly focused on their candidate husbands, nodding their heads and humanizing their man whom, for all the camera coverage, we still struggle to “know.”

At the 1940 presidential-nominating convention, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke for her husband while he was away, dealing with the affairs of our country. And she didn’t engage in gooey rhetoric from the podium. In that case, it’s what the conventioneers didn’t see that may have spoken most convincingly: a man at work.

Maybe it’s our frustration at the inability to truly read people that explains the now-mainstream proliferation of formerly counter-culture tattoos. We’re turning our skin into message boards with cues to the person within.

How do we ever know what’s in a person’s mind or heart?

Doctors see what we often can’t, even in our high-def lives, which may explain why some students choose medicine over political “science.” Medicine interprets clues to our inner workings and what might be awry.

That inner knowledge can be devastating, of course.

At this writing, respected Detroit editor and Wayne State University journalism professor Ben Burns just met his end point with outward grace, arranging a final scene of his own choosing: at home, with family and dogs.

Not a Facebook update, just facing facts: framing what mattered, while he was still in the picture — preserving the fragile moment by living it.

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