We’ve all heard that “the medium is the message.” But when I look back through the collected artifacts of my grandfather’s life, I can see that medium has a lot to do with memories also.
The stories of many of our grandparents come through in fascinating bits and pieces here and there – from black and white pictures, from early color pictures, from post cards, stamps, currency, letters. They had old family Bibles, telegrams, newspaper clippings, and farm journals. And often – because of their frugality and their (perhaps longer) sense of time, they kept these things.
It’s not just the content that these pieces of media contain that are interesting. It’s the media themselves. That a letter came by way of the Naval postage service is notable. That a post card came from Kingston, Jamaica in 1952 carries with it not just the message but the imaginative elements that can help you visualize what Kingston must have looked like at the time. Those analog days had a vibrant spectrum of media for communicating and writing down the things that would one day become memories and history.
What will we have? Facebook posts? Text messages? These things may one day be exciting in their own right as historical media, but they lack the variety of imaginative details that come with physical media. Physical media like paper and Polaroids keep the look of the era that produced them, and their decay over time only adds character. Digital memories may keep better, but they don’t keep context better.
Maybe the hipsters are right to be getting back to Polaroids and vinyl. Maybe we need to write more letters. Digital memories will be a wonderful resource one day, but for the sake of not boring future historians to death (and to give our grandchildren something to be enchanted by), let’s try to leave behind memories they can feel and touch, too.