A few years ago, the historian David McCullough visited our staff as one of the public faces to our public library campaigns. He talked about going through the journals of historical figures as part of his research, and telling us an especially illuminating tale of one of our founding fathers (I believe it was John Adams).
When McCullough went through his diaries, he noticed a single page that was furiously scratched out. Because the other entries were so mundane, he knew that to see such a page could very well have special meaning. After months of investigating, consulting anyone from Library of Congress to the FBI, he finally restored an emotional response to personal tragedy, including an admission to drinking that lead to the next day’s shameful deletion.
On Sunday, I relished in the beautiful day as an opportunity to clean. But not just any type of cleaning. No, the warm air streaming through my windows demanded that I sift through my drawer of mementos.
There, I found recommendation letters from high school teachers, high school graduation cards from dead relatives, tickets to Steeler games, and other things far too personal to share. I was washed over with a wave of nostalgia far more intense than the breeze, and a strange reminder of that David McCullough story. I had asked him how, a century from now, historians will be able to get that kind of insight into the history-makers of tomorrow. Is there any kind of full scale archival project happening for the Internet that will allow historians the kind of insight into individuals’ lives that we have for those back then?
His answer was a dejected no.
So, as somebody who loves holding onto small symbols of time & place, I wonder what kind of ways you, as teens today, will be able to carry memory with you. Will technology adapt to save a meaningful text? How will you archive a Facebook wall post and make it truly yours?
There’s some interesting recent research about the current meaning of mementos among adults and how potentially that can change 20 years from now, when you are the adults.
Archiving your own life also allows you to get a feel of your personal growth. How do you see the world at 14? How will you see the world at 30? 50? 80? How do other people see you? Imagine being one of the people profiled in David Nadelberg’s compilation Mortified: Real Words, Real People, Real Pathetic.
The book is, admittedly, hilarious, but I bet the people profiled have an amused appreciation for who they are now when looking back at the people they were. And I hope that someday, we develop the technology so you can do the same.
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main