A friend of mine has a two year old infant and she also owns a video camera. I'm not sure how she's managed to do it but she has at least four years worth of footage of the kid. Her You Tube Account is a shrine to every spare moment of her day she is able to point a lens at her growing boy. I'm not certain when she watches the clips or why with her kid right there why she would, but then again both sets of grandparents are out of state so maybe that's it.
The earliest recordings of my life are grainy black and white photos now yellowed with age. I'm willing to bet there isn't a half hour of me on video in my whole life. I do have over a gigabyte worth of text I've written, but somehow that just isn't the same. The first house I lived in, the yard I played in as a toddler, the scenery that made up the first years of my life are gone, or at best faded and blurry stills thrown into the bottom of a drawer at my father's house, or my mother's.
Pick a social networking site, and without much effort, you can join some small group of people who are recording their children in one form or another. (Hi Mim! Hi Macy! Hi Owen!) You may never really meet the parents of these kids but you'll watch them grow up if you stick around. Somewhere out there is the recorded history of the All American family, and there are millions of versions of it.
To some degree, there has to be some sort of evolution of the medium, and you have to wonder what that means for the moms and dads out there recording soccer practice every day. Remember we went from vinyl to CDs almost overnight, and anyone unlucky enough to have invested in Eight Track Tapes is screwed. Digital media might be a safe storage medium, but if you put all your videos on a portable hard drive and stashed it in a safe place how long would it be before the retrieval and playback of that medium would go the way of the VHS tape? We tend to think of sites like YouTube as something eternal but history shows us otherwise. The Next Big Thing might already be headed for the internet like a killer asteroid towards the dinosaurs. The internet might be king, like broadcast television once was, but look at how quickly dial-up took a hit. It's changing faster than dirty diaper lessons from that blue hair woman with the tattooed face.
I can remember when it was a big deal, a selling point, for a hotel to have a color television and air conditioning. I still remember thinking color television was too much, too garish and bright, and it distracted from the story. I was also the one who thought CDs wouldn't catch on, and DVDs would never replace VHS. Cable television, that had to be paid for, was a ridiculous idea. I've pretty much surrendered to technology now, and I look long and hard at all the new stuff coming out. It's all happening far too quickly to predict now, and no one can say what tomorrow might hold.
What I would do if I were a parent in this day and age, is once or twice a year record my kid's stuff. The clothes, the toys, the walls of the room, the lighting, the view from the bedroom window, the dog, of course the dog, the yard, and more or less everything a five or six year old might see just walking around the house. Someday, I'm certain 3-D will be commonplace and who knows, perhaps we'll invent a way to capture the smells of the place we're recording, as well as sights and sounds.
On the downside, and this is a very serious downside, we might wind up like my father, who once he got his hands on a camera, started filming Christmas. Every Christmas we find up watching the Ghosts of Christmas past, and sooner or later we will be watching a video of us watching a video on Christmas. I see it coming. We may very well be so obsessed with preserving the past we forget to live in the present, and pollute our future with memories of day to day lives being lived watching our day to day lives being lived.
Yet I cannot deny I wish I had a video of my grandparents, some of the older people in my life who are now gone, and perhaps a better record of some of the events that meant something to me. I wish I had some sort of hard evidence the place I grew up was as I remember it, and not as it exists today. I wish I could see the kids in my neighborhood again, and not the worried and harried adults, flawed and scarred, they grew up to be. The friend of mine who was murdered, I wish there was some way I could see her smile again.
Maybe we get too involved in our own personal histories. Maybe it isn't good to keep the past tucked away with easy access. Maybe we will miss people more when we can push a button and hear them laugh again. Maybe we should learn to let go, and let the past disappear as it always had for thousands of years of human history, each life lost to time, in its turn.
But to see her smile again…