IRC, the forgetting of things past, self and others

August 24th, 2008 by amy

The stream of thought flows on; but most of its segments fall into the bottomless abyss of oblivion. Of some, no memory survives the instant of their passage. Of others, it is confined to a few moments, hours or days. Others, again, leave vestiges which are indestructible, and by means of which they may be recalled as long as life endures.

-William James

I saw the above quote today and I’ve thought many times how strange it is that some memories remain and recur so frequently while others fade to nothing or are only vaguely grasped at the corners.

There are things which reoccur to me semi-frequently for no reason that I can think of: snatches of song, bits of books, movies, memories which echo around in my head. They’re not necessarily about important events or profound or particularly funny. Often they occur to me in my in-between times when I’m not thinking but doing something routine — brushing my teeth, showering, etc. Some memories are, I suspect, distorted or blurred and many old ones gather and drag other new thoughts and associations along like hooks on ropes dangling below a slow boat – sometimes new bits of detritus get attached while others drop away.

I am used to a certain level of lack of a sense of solid ‘self’ even though (or perhaps one might argue, because) I am such an introverted person. In the famous “You can’t step in the same river twice” way I know the me that had the experiences I remember (imprecisely, with distortions, the old being cast into shadows by new thoughts and new knowledges) is not the same me as now.

What William James couldn’t take into account was how technology can in some ways flatten out the abyss. Some things aren’t necessarily lost but merely a few keystrokes away if you want them — provided you have good back-ups (though of course there’s always the option to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind /delete things too).

I’ve noticed when searching IRC logs to confirm a phrase or find an old link that I’m sometimes surprised to read something and realize it was me saying it. It’s not necessarily that I disagree now with the me from then but more a kind of bemusement in realizing it seems alien, like something someone else thought and said. I have those “How am I not myself?” moments often enough already and to read the words of a self from which I am disconnected by time and imprecise memory is a curious feeling.

I just spent an hour or so re-reading weeks and months in the past from my IRC logs. I don’t think that I have a particularly good sense of how I appear to others so it ended up being interesting to read myself as a mostly dispassionate observer. In my every day life I worry I complain a lot, and well, yes, I do complain and I know that I go through periods of sadness or just plain crankiness but I noticed other things too like that I quite often make jokes — though why this should be surprising to me I am not sure.

I often (and I’m kind of embarrassedly aware of this too) ramble or expound on a theory or just natter. I think what I didn’t see as clearly before is how most of my friends more often that not respond in an interested way to most things I yammer about as easily and unconcernedly as I am interested in what they say (of course I’m interested, they’re very interesting people!).

I’m really struck by what wonderful, clever, funny and kind friends I have and how lucky I am. It’s fascinating to re-read old conversations and jokes, to re-live little joys and sorrows, to see some circumstances of our current lives first mentioned or wondered at, to see how old pains or worries or angers have faded away (or how they haven’t) and to see the day-by-day links of our friendships of years. I’ve long know how much these conversations meant to me, how interesting and funny and poignant they were (and every so often exclaimed: “You should blog this!” but that the same time, knew that it was likely no one would because, well, it had been said and understood already, why repeat it elsewhere?) but now I realize that we have been writing a kind of book of our lives minute-by-minute and that it is actually pretty amazing.

One Response to “IRC, the forgetting of things past, self and others”

  1. barbie-dull Says:

    I love this entry, Amy!

    Not only because it is well-written and interesting, but also because every now and then, while going through my own IRC logs, I get exactly the same feelings as you describe. The me of then and the me of now, the dispassionate observer.

    This entry is a reminder (or proof) that some conversations lead to forming thoughts, reaching understanding, gaining perspective. Some conversations did lead to blog entries ;)

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