Memory in the Age of Youtube

Once upon a time, you were a child, then you slowly and painfully became an adult. When you’d reached adulthood, your childhood seemed like a movie starring someone else – a wooden, yet curiously over-acting performer. Things were shaded by time and experience, so over time they acquired different connotations. Pictures and sounds were distorted by memory shifting and replacing gaps with supposition or wishes.

It gave memory a depth of time, allowing you to see the expansion of yourself in something a simple as the theme tune to an old tv show. You’d vaguely remember it, and associated with it would be the tastes, sounds, feelings of the time – or, at least the ones you’d built into the memory.
It doesn’t matter if memory is ever accurate, that isn’t my point. My point is that memory, as it used to work, was a method of reviewing your own growth as a person (and as an aside, letting you back in to the ancient terrors you’d long since left behind). It was, therefore, part of you.
Now you no longer have to remember anything because the Internet can do it for you, and it can do it perfectly. Say, for example, you vaguely remember the theme tune to 1980s kids’ show Words and Pictures. You might recall being a little unsettled by its slightly harsh sounding synth, you might be assaulted by the smell of school dinners, by the memory of the TV being wheeled out for the whole class and the Schools TV clock counting down the final minute before the broadcast. You might even feel, in the half-remembered tones, the terror of being small.  And, at the very back of that memory, might be a dark image, a terrifying TV screen, and the idea of death.

Well, in the past, that memory would have stayed with you for life, and would have moulded itself around your growth as a person. In old age, you’d think on it and see the continuity and mystery of your life. You could share it, and patches of the memory would become intertwined with patches of others’ memories – it would become part of a community (a collective unconscious, perhaps).


You look it up on Youtube and find this:


To add detail and colour to the memory, you confirm it with this:


And then, just to follow your line of curiousity, just because you can, you google “words and pictures horror” and the fourth link that comes up answers and clears your ancient, possibly false, hopefully meaningful memory.

It’s this:

You had obviously walked into the living room when you were supposed to be in bed.


So the memory is cleared, wiped – poorly, to be sure, and with some if not most of the feelings associated with it unwilling to go away: but the memory, imprinted, adapted and changed is replaced with actual fact. The depth of your childhood is altered; your perception of your own past ineradicably changed; your interest in the long-gone past fades.

Is that a bad thing?

About Kevin Donnelly

I'm also known as Lawrence George, which is the name I write for Helium under. I think I ought to ditch my pseudonyms before I forget which one is me.
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