Monday, February 25, 2013

An End to History?

I have recently been made aware of an intriguing phenomenon that occurs to us as we age. In discussions with others of my generation and in discussions with many people of later generations, including my own son, it has become clear to me that there is one very significant fact about our different points of view on the world.

What we recall as memory, they only know as history.

I never learned this as a younger person; no one ever mentioned it, perhaps because they never phrased it quite this way. It serves, in a subtle way, to define us as members of communities of experience. We, the older ones and they, the younger ones. It separates and segregates us in some ways, but it also brings home to us all that time passes, things change and yet remain so very much the same.

The most notable example of this from my youth is my point of view on the Great Depression versus that of my parents. Now, as I pass through the 6th decade of my life, I am finally able to understand why that event, that economic paroxysm, so affected their way of thinking and looking at the world.

The recalled it as memory, but I could only ever know it as history.

For me, the most defining event flipping this effect is the moon landing in 1969. I recall this as memory, but our young people, of course, only know it as history.

The odd thing is that these communities are fluid and fuzzy edged. My son and I certainly recall many things as memory such as 9/11 ... but there is already a new generation that does not...and so we are separated from them by a fuzzy edged wall of experience and recall.

History is not memory; the two are very different. And that may say more about our species than anything else.

How strange it would be (and what effect it might have) if every generation could recall 'history' as 'memory'.