Like many children born since the mid-80s, my sons lives have been captured on video camera and I have a collection of tapes that is so large, I would need to take a week's holiday to watch them. As much as I love my boys the tapes are, frankly, extremely boring. I can't bear to watch them and my oldest son starts yawning and fidgeting within five minutes. Only my wife seems immune from the tedium of rewatching the school nativity play or a five-minute sequence of my son eating a bowl of pasta.
Last year I decided to do something about it, took that week off work and edited 20 hours' worth of video tape down to a handful of short DVDs. As a result, we all enjoy reliving some of the happier moments from the past and my eldest son seems fascinated by them. However, as I watch him watching the video footage, I wonder what effect this will have on his memory.
In the natural order of things, we are supposed to forget the first five or six years of our lives, apart from a few flashes of memory. That sense of one's life as a narrative only develops in response to an accumulation of memories, which is why children possess the enviable ability to live in the present. However, many of today's children never go through the natural process of forgeting their past because they are continually reviewing it. I wonder what effect this on an individual's psyche?
I have tried Googling this question as I'm sure that there must have been some research done on the subject, but I haven't had any success.
If we go back further, beyond cine films, photographs and tape recordings, it was normal for people to forget most of their own history. Only the literate could keep a journal and portraits were limited to the priviliged few. Was this a bad thing? It is natural to want to preserve the past because it gives perspective and meaning to our lives, and the comforts of the past can counterbalance the uncertainties of the future, but would it be better if we just lived for the moment?
This theme has been explored by artists and many people will remember Michael Landy's 'Break Down' installation in which he occupied the ground floor of the former C&A in Oxford Street and systematically destroyed all of his 7000 possessions as a protest against the consumer society. Nothing was spared. By the end of the 14-day exhibition, Landy owned nothing except the boiler suit he stood in.
I'd be interested to know how he lives now. Did he pop down to Argos, pick up a catalogue and replenish his worldly goods or has he maintained his stance against materialism?
But that's a digession from a train of thought that began with home videos. If you're still reading, thank you for not drifting off. If you have any thoughts on this matter I'd be interested to hear them.