I am reading a great book called Paris: A Love Story by Kati Marton. It’s a memoir that takes you back before the days of the internet, when phone calls were made with phones still attached to walls. When letters were written transatlantically. When people were together fully, with no second tier of attention, person, thing, or device to interrupt them or tug them away from the moment.
I remember those days too. I remember being in love in university and the feeling of a lazy day in bed then rushing to the theatre, where my boyfriend would race through Noel Coward dialogue then rush backstage and kiss me between scenes. Most days we lay on the rocky shores of Dallas bay beach in Victoria and drank wine and talked of art and life and our love, replaying our first disastrous date over and over and laughing in our own secret world. There were four am whispers that spoke to our 20 year old innocence, full of hopes and dreams and big plans. Sun set, sun rise. Always holding each other. We had no cell phones or computer, only a bare room, a shared bathroom with other renters in a big old character house, a bed, and sparse little cooking area. No one in the house loved us because we were so in love. We felt bad about it but there was nothing to do be done. We needed long baths and we had to cook in the middle of the night and rehearse dialogue loudly ‘with feeling’.
I wrote love notes and left them on pillows. If we were apart, we had to wait all day to speak to each other. I used to run from the bus stop to our apartment after hours of separation. There was no digital bridge between us, only the haphazard will of time marking off the distance between one touch and another.
I don’t have any text or tweets or emails or Facebook statuses to look back on. No skype conversations, no digital footprints of our great love that held thousands of words and gestures, tears, and laughter. Not a trace.
Fast forward to now and I can’t seem to get out of the mire of leftover digital debris of love now gone. Just when I think it’s all been tidied away I come around the corner of a digital file to read:
“My heart and soul is with you all day. xxx”
“Counting down the days until I hold you in my arms again. I should be landing soon, same gate! Hope it is warmer in DC!”
Tweets, emails, instagrams–endless trails of relationships held in the ether. When I read these I don’t see an image or have a feeling. I just see text. A lot of short text messages. In fact, one of my Twitter direct message streams between my boyfriend and I equalled 995 pages. Yes, enough for a book.
I wonder as we gently open our memories and look back if analog love will feel different than digital? I think it does. In my analog love, there’s only the pictures that run like an old movie in my mind: us running for the bus, laughing so hard in a movie lineup I pee my pants, roses by the bed, champagne bubbles making me hiccup. They all seem saturated and three-dimensional and evocative and there’s nothing else attached to these images. Only the feeling, made more precious because they exist in my personal memory and nowhere else.
But when I look back on my last few relationships, they are crowded with so much confusing digital noise it’s hard to just see a simple picture. There’s so much of our relationship that happened in fractured transmedia style stories told across multiple platforms that it’s harder for me to pull a single moment out and cherish it. There’s a lot of content. There’s also a lot of sadness in those digital remnants that is harder to ignore and let the simple happiness shine through.
Yesterday I was walking along the dyke near where I live and ran into an 84-year-old man who was photographing a bird. I stopped and we started chatting. He took up photography only a year ago and felt completely lost with the digital camera at first but he showed me his pictures and they were National Geographic quality. I was stunned. There was the owl he was watching, flying towards the viewfinder with his wings outspread and his head upside down. Amazing capture. I said, you need to publish these! He just laughed and laughed. I said, what do you do with them? He said ‘I don’t do anything. My wife doesn’t want me fooling with the computer. I just like taking pictures.‘ Turns out, he hands his entire sim card over to a Nature Conservancy every few months for free.
So there we were, just being in the moment, enjoying two short-eared owls hunting for vole with no purpose other than to just marvel in their beauty and try to capture it on film. It felt really pure to me. The old man said, ‘I get these pictures because the birds trust me. They know me. I come here everyday for 3 or 4 hours.’
I am thinking differently about digital these days. In part because of Bill, my new friend, but also in part because I am seeing how my life has changed since being immersed and connected all the time. I’m not sure where this is going to take me but I’m curious to know others thoughts on analog versus digital experiences, and how we will remember in 10 years, and, more importantly, how our hearts will be curated in the ether.