Monday, April 09, 2012

Opinion: A Foreign Country Worth Revisiting?

A personal computer can introduce many past the first flush of youth to some surprising new territories.

After the initial burst of prosaic activity including e-mails and updating the Christmas card list, the vista of the internet opens up with the capacity to Google anything under the sun, bid on eBay and plumb the variously-informed depths of Wikipedia.

Sometimes the effects of unfettered entry into a huge new world are more complicated than just fun or interesting

The impact of consulting Friends Reunited or similar sites may be greater than anticipated. It is so easy to look up your year at school or university or check on various employers or the forces.

Unless you have total recall, on first doing so you will come across names you may have long forgotten and re-live memories lost or deliberately discarded. The process has many plusses and possibly a few minuses.

You will note that some from your past give a full account of the intervening years and their current circumstances. As a rule, the fuller the details the happier that person is with their lot.

Other cooler folk are more discreet and don’t care to share any information other than their names. Some regard school days as the best years of their lives. Enviably, they don't much focus on bullying or school life punctuated by the sarcasm of games teachers and the stomach-churning apprehension preceding a Monday morning maths test.

For some, the site jogs memories of adolescent isolation. Normally, time passing smoothes the rough edges of recollected unhappiness, even if it does not completely erase it. I wondered to what extent a healing oblivion was actually a natural process to be valued and whether, for certain people, it was entirely healthy to seek 100% accurate playback.

Taking use of the Internet a little further, it is no longer necessary to be ignorant of the lives of former classmates or colleagues. It is so easy to Google them and quickly apparent to what heights they have soared – from promotions and wealth to publications and honours. It may pay, however, to remember the saying, every time a friend succeeds, something inside me dies a little. Search engines soon show up those discouraging pages of your old friend's best sellers on Amazon - when previously you might have continued in happy, if under-achieving, ignorance.

Facilities like Wikipedia mean that memories of no part of one's past need fade away entirely. If you look up a location on the farthest side of the world where you spent time years ago, there is likely to be an informative update. Quite possibly there will be an amazing satellite-generated aerial shot on Google Earth which one can pan down and check out one's old house and see what’s now growing in your old back garden.

The proliferation of eBay has meant that the meaningful detritus of the past can be accessed and delivered, making recollection so much more vivid - from post cards to bric a brac of every kind. The unlocking of a flood of memories by obtaining menus from voyages on P & O liners of the 1950's is only one bid away.

There is no denying that it is hard to resist revisiting one’s past now so vividly on line - particularly when it can be done with such ease.

The question is, however, is it entirely beneficial? Is it sometimes healthier to allow the passage of time to take its natural course and soften any harsh memories? 

Are we really meant to have such comprehensive recall of past places and faces? 

Is forgetfulness or dimming memory like sleep, a necessary refresher, relaxant and reliever of pressure? 

Alternatively, is a photographically accurate recollection of the past necessary to achieve a true understanding of its meaning? 

Is it always a good idea to revisit the past? L.P.Hartley once wrote, the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. As in so many other areas, nowadays it is much quicker, cheaper and convenient to make that trip online. 

Although it is undeniable that the past is a fascinating foreign country, I’m still not clear whether we should place more value on the actual benefits of the natural, old-fashioned memory loss or delusion that we used to be permitted. Aren't we meant to forget and forgive and, by doing so, gain peace of mind and acceptance of things past? 

It's only natural to want to revisit this foreign country, but maybe it's worth remembering that, as well as being enlightening, travel sometimes entails some discomfort - even on-line.

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