Like Nero Wolfe fulminating against the use of “contact” as a verb, I want to rant a little today about the current tendency to refer to doing anything pleasant or interesting as “making memories.” It may have started with photography. The Kodak Brownie camera, the first handheld camera that anyone could use, came out one hundred years ago, in 1900. (It sold for $1.) I can remember people joking—in the 1970s? the 1980s?—about the flocks of Japanese tourists, all of whom arrived in New York with cameras slung around their necks and seemed to spend more time snapping each other than looking at the “monuments,” as the French call important buildings and tourist attractions. When digital cameras came out, that behavior went global. Vast numbers of people today don’t even bother with a camera, but use their cell phones to record the passing moment.
What’s wrong with making memories? Only that it seems to have replaced experiencing life as it happens. In 1971, Ram Dass (remember him?) exhorted us to “be here now.” Seekers of enlightenment in various traditions from Zen Buddhism to twelve-step recovery are still trying to focus on the present moment. But nowadays, they’re swimming against the current. Sometimes it seems to me that the cultural norm, especially since cell phones became so popular all around the world and addictive use of them widespread, is to ignore completely where you are, whomever you’re with, and what you’re doing in favor of somewhere else, (the spectacular sunset before your eyes vs cyberspace or the middle of the night in London), someone else (the toddler you’re pushing in its stroller vs your best friend who’s having a boring day at work), and traveling, shopping, working out, or visiting vs talking on or thumbing your Blackberry or iPod.
The use of “making memories” as a synonym for doing something both confirms and reinforces this bizarre postmodern reality. “I don’t have to enjoy it now,” people seem to say, whether “it” is a long-planned vacation or the raising of their children. “The whole point is to enjoy it when it’s over, looking back on it.” Does that mean that everyone should leave the digital camera home when visiting the grandchildren or traveling thousands of miles to a destination wedding? By no means. It is possible to strike a balance between giving oneself fully to the experience in the present and stepping back a pace to record it for ongoing enjoyment or to share it for those who can’t be there. Photography itself is an art that can be practiced for pleasure while the event being photographed is occurring. And the ability to return to an event certainly can add to the enjoyment. I chose to leave my camera in my backpack last time I visited my son and his family, in order to “be here now”—and I’ve been regretting ever since that I didn’t pull it out and use the video feature when my six-year-old granddaughter did her hiphop routine. I intend to remedy that on the next visit.
Cellphonistas are another story. Cellphonistas! Don’t get me started! They wander in front of cars as the light changes. They go forty miles an hour in the fast lane. They are so oblivious to those around them that they crash into blind people with white canes on the street and share intimate medical and financial details of their lives with everybody on the bus. It’s become a common sight to see couples, who presumably chose to spend time together, strolling along, each talking on a cell phone with someone else. Worse, I see parents ignoring and even shushing their kids as they babble on and on to whoever’s on the other end of the line, regardless of their audience. Somehow, the person who’s ruining the ride for everyone else on the bus is always doing all the talking. True cellphonistas never listen.
So let’s all put down the iPhones and e-cameras and start making experiences before we get too wrapped up in making memories. Slow down, enjoy the sunshine, listen to the birds, and smell the cherry blossoms. Be here now.