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I really enjoyed watching all the video clips of various firework displays on your Instagram today.

November 15, 2013

… Said nobody, ever.

I’ll tell you what I do enjoy – I enjoy Fireworks Night. Live. In the fresh, crisp, slightly cold early-winter-late-autumn night. I enjoy waiting, I enjoy watching, and I enjoy wandering home 20 minutes later with nothing more interesting to say than “Welp, that’s that then. Did you get a toffee apple?” Other people, however, must shoe-horn in their own fun, lest they realise they wasted the £5 or so they paid to get in through the door, so much so that I’m convinced they were seeing something completely different to me.

Seriously, it was like attending a scheduled an alien landing or something; all the phones were out, all the innocently enraptured looks on the snotty studenty faces. I had a strong urge to tap someone on the shoulder and say: “You do realise that this happens every year, don’t you? Just saying.” I mean jeez, it’s not that long to wait. I doubt you will get to the 364th day and cry “Oh, it’s been too long!” Unless you have a terminal illness, you’ll see them again all too soon and it’ll be much the same charade over again. If anything, it’s better to forget it as much as possible so that it feels fresh again next time.

If you do have a terminal illness, it’s still pretty unlikely that with your last breath you will earnestly request to be bestowed with a low-res, shaky-cam, out-of-focus video clip of some poxy coloured dots crackling vaguely in the distance upon a thick, black, oppressive darkness, complete with the silloette of an occasional bobble hat popping up in the way of the shot and a bizarre wheat-field of startled toddlers hoiked up on their parents’ shoulders flanking you like a pentagon of freakishly shaped bodyguards from a bad acid trip, wailing unhead protests amidst a veritable cacophony of “Oohs” and “Aahs”, both of the perfunctory and overawed varieties, uttered from the mouths of full-grown adults shuffling furtively sideways to get away from the Invasion of the Incorrigable Leaners, then punctuated by a series of irritated tuts by some twit who thinks it’s their God given right to take up twice their alloted amount of space in order to film some glorified sparklers at arms length on a camera phone in order to make videos that no one in a million years will ever want to see, unless gunpowder sponntaniously disappears off the face of the Earth for 1000 years and our distant descendents discover that one solitary, long-inactive Instagram account that slipped through the finers of time and began floating about in cyberspace unchecked is the only historical source they can find that depicts the phenomenon of firework night. No doubt they, too, will wonder why anyone bothered.

Who’s it for? You won’t watch it back. You can be damned sure none of your friends will give tinkers toot. Most likely, they went to their own display and even the shittist wander-passed-someone’s-back-garden-at-a-distance firework display that you saw live is better than The Most Epic Display Known To Man recorded on a smartphone. As a piece of tech, they have this remarkable ability to make treasured memories into static, boring, random events, to the extent that you can’t imagine the reason why you recorded them in the first place.

It’s not like family videos; fireworks are all the same. If it so happens that your bed-ridden little brother couldn’t get out on the night itself and either is fostering an early fetish for bangs and crackles or has never been to see a display in his whole life, he still isn’t missing anything so great that he needs to see it online. If he does, there’s bound to be a better clip than the one you took with your own hands. But more than likely, he doesn’t want to see a clip by any old random person and he doesn’t want to see a clip of someone he knows having a good time at seemingly nothing, giggling behind the camera, knowing that he wasn’t there to enjoy it.

It’s a mark of the time we live in. We can upload anything we want when we want, so we do. We don’t think about whether we should – it’s our space, so why not? In the interests of saving your own time, ask yourself one simple question: “If this took me longer than 15 minutes to put online, would I bother uploading it?” If the answer is “No”, then you probably shouldn’t bother anyway. It then becomes easy to discrimiated between something worth seeing and something not; a goose flying into a window is a rare enough occurrence that you would want to share it as much as you could. Pictures of spoons, bananas, granite counter-tops, burned ash in fireplaces, left-over bath water, spilt milk and used matches probably aren’t, however special they may seem at the time.

It’s time we re-engaged with the fact that not everything we see has inherent worth just because we saw it. It may carry importance to us for some reason, so we hoard pictures to make “memories”, resulting in us never storing anything in our heads. You’d think no one remembered anything before digital media, the way we go on. Does anyone else’s gran still remember the WWII period? That was some time ago, y’know. No digital pictures then.

So, the memories might not be entirely accurate, but who cares? At the end of the day, when you’re 84 you will have lost most of those digital pictures because tech will have moved on and you won’t have seen the value in attempting to salvage all the memories you collected together like an obsessive-compulsive hoaring dated tubs of their own ear wax. I mean, I can’t be the only one who only realised the vast majority of his VHS tape movies were crap when faced with the expense of upgrading. It happens.

We’re so obsessed with making “memories” that we forget to make actual memories. I don’t have any science to back this up or anything, but I feel pretty sure that I remember things better when I focus properly on them instead of my camera. If you channel all your experiences through the tech, its the tech that makes the memories and not the events themselves. I took over 2,000 pictures on my last holiday, and most of them are no aid to memory because I wasn’t really paying attention in the first place. I feel sure that if I had simply looked at things, I would have a fuller, more rounded experience of my trip. It’s just as well that I enjoy photography more than sightseeing, or I would have genuinely lost something. As it happens, I did anyway, in the literal sense – my computer and external hard drive both broke in conjunction with each other and I now have only a handful of those photos left. Bang go those memories, I guess.

What I am pretty certain about is that, of all the moments that we record, we only remember a fraction and that’s usually because most of what we see isn’t important to remember. I think we’re terrified of losing memories because we don’t know which ones we will value and which we won’t.  I can answer that question for you; you will value the ones you genuinely remember. You will not value ones that you can only recall, or patch together innacurately, based on photos or other people’s accounts. If you can’t remember it, maybe there’s a reason – maybe you weren’t quite as emotionally attatched to That Time With The Duck And The Peanut as you thought you were. If you don’t know you lost anything, you haven’t lost anything. The over-documentation of our every waking moment just serves to remind us how inadequete memory is, and how much we really are missing.

Technology’s great and I love that you can take awesome photos at the click of a button (or lots of frantic shaking / cursing) and share them with friends. Inevitably, the easier it is, the more you’ll do it – it’s the letting go that’s the hardest, and most important, part. Why delete something when you can put it online? Because you’re cleaning out your closet. Cleaning out the closet doesn’t mean moving the remains to the attic. You will go looking through old photos at some point and it won’t do you a blind bit of good to sit around staring at endless photots of that bloke you met drunk who seemed like a Top Geezer, or your teenage almost-fling sipping a cheap plastic cup of manky cider.

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