The erroneous quest to record

The business model of social media companies is simple: profit from the human quest to record and immortalise existence. After all, what do people use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for if not to capture and share slivers of their life?

It’s not a new thing. We were obsessed with recording and preserving well before the advent of social media and the internet. Written language is a technology designed to aide archival activities as much as communication. Even mediums that go beyond words are there for preservation. What is a painting or a sculpture but the imprisoning of the artist’s feeling, vision or belief at one particular moment?

Unfortunately, like many human quests, it is somewhat erroneous because the acts of recording and preserving are at odds with the act of experiencing and living. In order to preserve the past and the present in some medium for future use, we must cordon off part of our selves and become observers instead of participants. That’s why player-coaches are rare: because both playing and coaching—participating and observing—are activities that demand total commitment and immersion. 

Sometimes, when I go for a cycle or take a walk, I come across something beautiful. An ageing tree. A sky in transition. An animal unaware of my presence. In such moments I debate with myself the merits of trying to capture the moment versus trying to savour it. On one hand, I feel it would be nice to share these fleeting glimpses of life with the people I care about. But on the other hand, I think that my attempt to record the moment will sully it somehow, will make my presence and my recollection of that moment impure. 

The compromise I’ve come to settle on in such scenarios—and in life itself, I suppose—is to hope that the intensity of my participation will itself act as a preservation mechanism. Instead of writing immediately of the moment in a notebook, or pulling out my smartphone and taking a picture, I try to be there, in that instant, with all of my being. Time will tell if my gamble is a wise one, but right now, I’m willing to bet that living fully etches moments in my memory more effectively than any technology or device designed to capture experience.