Memory and Respect for Your Elders

Posted on May 17, 2009 by


The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props.

Props meaning objects, not necessarily praise, but I suppose that could fall under that too.

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One day during a company meeting at an old job, we were asked, “if you were in a fire and you could only take one object out, what would that object be?”

It was an exercise that revealed people’s said priorities admist disaster.  It revealed the objects that elicited such positive and strong emotions amongst my co-workers.  It revealed the memories that people would want to cling onto. A lot of the women got gushy and said something sentimental like, they’d take their pictures and albums and other stereotypically gushy, ooey gooey stuff.  Some people said cats or some book like the Bible or whatever that book is.

When it came to my buddy, a young formerly cocky white dude from Ohio, he said something that I thought was common sense, almost instinctual, but apparently sent shockwaves across the room and towards the Pacific Rim.

His response to the question: he’d take his laptop.

After all, his laptop had all those pictures, his important documents, and then some.

However, the laptop would be quite useless without batteries, a plugging output, and electricity. What to do with the laptop without those things then? How logical would it be to take with you a non-functioning piece of technology then?

I’ve been struck by how we continually outsource our knowledges, our experiences, our memories to technology and to other people. We take a picture, scan, write, or type it down for later reference and use. As memory researchers and scholars are keen to say, those technologies act as mnemonic extensions of our brain.

In addition to this outsourcing via technology, we’ll get other people to do things for us. We will pay someone (or a company) to clean out our drains, paint our houses, arrange our cable networks, and indirectly pay for water, electricity, gas. On occasion we’ll pay someone money to make us a sandwich. By paying someone to do something else for us, we outsource skills and knowledge that we ourselves could technically do, but generally, out of convenience, we’ll get someone else to do it for us.

So basically in the context of our society which is increasingly global and urban, we like to outsource and externalize a lot of stuff we could know and that we could experience.

Maybe I’m romanticing what I don’t know intimately, but the individualized memory seems to be more important in other cultures and other societies past and present with primarily oral traditions. The individualized, personal, working memory embodied within the brain and the rest of the body and without any other external mnemonic devices would be more important for oral cultures.

Assuming this were true, I was wondering if elders in those primarily oral traditions with earned their respect and reverence through communication and expression of those individualized memories, told via story, parable, or anecdote. It seems to explain one reason why “Eastern” thought has stressed the idea of respecting the wisdom of the elders.

Personally, I love how old people don’t seem to give a shit anymore and say almost whatever it is they think. It’s like they’re done with their time of “work” and retire from social convention as well. Best part about all this change, is that they don’t really stumble upon their speech, so they’ve got maximum assuredness in their speech.

Generally old people are still pretty damn good storytellers, but seems like nowadays we’ll watch and listen to reality television, the lives of celebrities, and sports because that’s what’s convenient.