Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Total Recall

With its steady integration into living rooms everywhere, High Definition television is now being lauded as one of the greatest inventions of our generation. Everyone who has it raves about how it’s opened up a whole new world of viewing pleasure, with its startling clarity and lifelike images. The technology is even considered to be – at least in part – responsible for why people are staying home more and going out less, resulting in decreased attendance at places like movie theaters and sporting events. That’s the type of impact it’s had.

After all, if you can get virtually the same experience from your couch that you can get from the stands, why go somewhere that you have to use a trough as a urinal?

And while I’m in favor of avoiding public restrooms as much as possible, I personally don’t get what the big deal is about HD. Yes, the picture is clearer, and yes, I’m glad somebody came up with the improvement, but ultimately, it hasn’t changed my TV watching experience that much. It’s not giving me any specialized viewing angles or new perspectives or anything like that. When I watch a football game, for instance, I still can’t see how the safety is aligned…I can just make out his nose hairs when they show a close-up.

To be honest, I equate watching HD to going to a strip club – it’s cool for about 20 minutes, but once the (insanely awesome) novelty wears off, you’re not seeing anything of consequence that you haven’t seen before.

The Digital Video Recorder, on the other hand, has revolutionized the way I watch TV. With its rewinding and pausing and recording two shows at once, I have all sorts of freedom. I can answer the phone or play golf or do whatever and still see everything I want to see – all without commercial interruption. It simply doesn’t get any better than that.

A couple of weeks ago, though, there was a program my girlfriend and I wanted to watch that was going to be on while we were flying back from out of town, so we set the DVR in advance. But when we walked in from the airport, the red “Record” light wasn’t on, despite the fact that the show was airing as scheduled.

Sitting there, frustrated and fuming, my evening plans shot, I tried to make sense of it all. Had the DVR developed a mind of its own? Had it begun haphazardly deciding what it would record and what it wouldn’t? I mean, this machine was my rock, my anchor, and I trusted it to capture and hold onto what was important to me. How disorienting would my world become if I could no longer bank on being able to call up what I needed when I needed it?

Needless to say, the whole fiasco was somewhat unsettling. But what made it even worse was that it meant that there were now two storage devices in my life that couldn’t be counted on.

The other would be my memory. For some time now, it just hasn’t been as sharp as it used to be. Dates, phone numbers, Seinfeld lines, you name it…none of these things come to me like they once did, and what I’m sure I’ll remember one minute is gone the next. I don’t know if it’s age or the sleep apnea that plagues me or what, but my mind feels like a darkened closet, where I have to stumble around and stub my toe before I can find what I’m looking for – if I ever find it at all.

Just last week, the local sports talk was discussing a basketball player who had made headlines for one reason or another. His name sounded familiar, and I knew I should’ve recognized it, but I couldn’t quite place it. Where did he play? What was his position? How many illegitimate kids did he have? These were all facts I’d been accustomed to recalling instantly, but now, I saw nothing but blurriness.

After about 45 seconds, I finally connected all of the dots, but the incident became another example in a long line of examples of my ever-increasing amnesia.

Not surprisingly, I don’t really remember when these issues first started. I want to say they cropped up last football season, when my beloved Texas Longhorns were slogging towards a disastrous 5-7 record. My guess is that, out of self preservation, my subconscious tried to shut down the “UT Fan” wing of my memory bank, but the lines got crossed, and the entire network was knocked out of whack.

And while it’s been nice to not remember every fumble and dropped pass – and every missed tackle and interception and blown assignment – this lack of recall has negatively affected the other areas of my life. Whether it’s at work or in my average day-to-day, I’m always on edge, worried that there’s something that I’m not doing. It’s like I’m perpetually loading my suitcase into the car, convinced that I’ve forgotten to pack my boxers.

My biggest fear, though, is that I’m eventually going to reach the next level of forgetfulness: not realizing that I even forgot something, because I have no recollection of what it was I was supposed to do in the first place.

In other words, forgetting that I’m forgetting.

It used to be that I never had to think twice about remembering something, nor did I have to keep notes or write anything down. Everything that happened to me – from the smallest of moments to the deepest of conversations – got filed away, and I could replay and relive the experience whenever I needed to.

And as a writer, this really came in handy. All my time is spent examining and evaluating and picking apart the world around me, and I’m constantly stockpiling “What does it mean?” observations in hopes of finding a good story idea or an interesting angle to explore. So having access to these musings, no matter how long ago they had occurred, made my creative process that much more effective.

But now, I have to scribble out nearly every thought that pops into my head, knowing that if I don’t, there’s a good chance it’s going to disappear into the darkness.

Where are Dave Chappelle and his home stenographers when you need them?

The worst part of all of this, though, is that I don’t feel completely like myself anymore. I don’t feel as smart, and I don’t feel as self-assured. The inside jokes I share with my friends aren’t as fresh in my mind, and some of the seminal moments in my life, like my first kiss or when my hometown Houston Rockets won the city’s first title or the first time I got drunk (okay, so maybe that’s not the best example), are more fuzzy than in-focus.

And so are the emotions that went with them.

Our memories, in a sense, define who we are. Without them, we’re just a blank slate, a hollowed-out version of ourselves. They are the record, the evidence of our lives. They store all of the critical data – what’s happened to us, how we interpreted those events and what we can learn from them. They maintain our connection to the past, and they provide context and meaning to our present. They can transform a mundane task into a hard-fought accomplishment, and they can serve as a reminder of where we’ve been and where we want to go.

So losing touch with that, even if just a little, has been disheartening. I’ve tried to keep the deterioration at bay by doing things to stimulate my cerebrum – mixing up my route to work, solving Sudoku puzzles, flipping the bird with my less-dominant left hand – but nothing has done the trick yet. And my guess is that, as I get older, the battle will become that much tougher.

Which brings me back to my DVR…

It turns out that it hadn’t gone rogue at all. That show my girlfriend and I wanted to watch? It didn’t record because it was a rerun, and the DVR was set to only tape first-run episodes.

Not surprisingly, the designers of the DVR were smart – they knew that their invention would have a finite amount of storage, so they equipped it with options that would allow it to secure and save whatever its owner deemed most essential.

My hope is that my memory can figure out how to do the same. Ever since these lapses started, my world has been a hazy mess, like I’ve been squinting through the fog. But if I can somehow learn to parse out the nonsense so that I can hold onto the meaningful stuff, then maybe I can get back to seeing life the way it was apparently meant to be seen:

In high definition.

1 comment:

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About Me

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"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?