Your mind is a crap camera

This was the simplified conclusion of a jogging conversation yesterday morning. I say, ‘your mind’ to mean ‘people in generals’ minds,’ rather than your mind, specifically, sitting there being good enough to spend your time reading this blog. Your mind is clearly quite discerning, as your choice of reading materials confirms.

I was Runsploring around Seoul, as I am wont to do of a Sunday morning, on a route which I last ran in April during cherry blossom season, or spring, as it is more commonly called. My running mate and I were discussing the nature of time and its effect on memory, or perhaps vice versa.

Spring flowers by Dongguk uni

Spring flowers by Dongguk uni

The last time I ran this particular route, I climbed out from Dongguk University station to be overwhelmed by the sight of a lane of trees in full blossom. The air was balmy and fresh, the running group was expanded due to the warmer weather and everyone was full of spring energy and ready to burn off some winter pounds. I was looking forward to the imminent visit of my best mate and her family who we took back to the same spot a couple of weeks later, it being so pretty.

Fast forward eight months and a much smaller group of runners huddled within the station, waiting for stragglers and late dropout notifications, discussing the overnight plunge in temperatures and debating whether a full ski-jacket or a wind-cheater and layers would be best for the morning’s venture. On the run, the park was brown, the trees bare, streams frozen. The only splashes of colour were sprays of red berries here and there.

Same place, different day

Same place, different day

Frozen stream

Frozen stream

The intervening time has been an emotional rollercoaster, to coin a cliché. Most of it has been filled with work; a lot of it has been filled with running, alone and with the group. A fair sum of it has been taken up with some great travelling adventures around Asia, and overall a steadily growing appreciation of Korea and particularly Seoul, which I have developed a strong attachment to as a great place to live.

In short, these eight months have contained a lot of new experiences but, as my running mate observed, it didn’t seem like that much time had passed since our spring run. In fact, this was the third time I’d run in the same area – Namsan. Once in similar freezing conditions last January, when we ran straight up one side, and down and round the other. Then, in spring, we ran the route around the side of the mountain, starting at the National Theatre and running around to the cable cars and back. The memories of each run overlapped and conflated together, drawing in various associations such as, “Hey, remember that was the last time Sujin came, I wonder what she’s up to now?”

There followed the musing that prompted this post and the conclusion which constitutes its title. I used to mull over this concept as a child, still trying to work out the world. It baffled me that I could have lived for eight years, for example, but not remember at least three of them and only have specific moments from the remaining five.

It’s this selective quality of memory that prompted the comparison to a crap camera. My phone, for example, takes some decent photos, and they are generally under 1MB in size. They don’t take up a huge amount of memory, but they nicely capture the scene they’re pointed at. If you try to examine them in close detail, they become pixellated and ugly. Bits you’re not interested in take up more attention than necessary. The focus becomes unclear.

My point-and-shoot, purple pride and joy, takes some lovely photos. I’ve used it for almost all the photos on this blog, for example. They are generally around the 5MB mark in size, with plenty of detail and standing up to some fairly minute scrutiny. I sometimes spot things I might not have noticed at the moment the shutter clicked when I’m looking back at them later. But they take up space. I might have a few similar shots of the same thing, and I compare them, select the best and delete the rest. Is this similar, perhaps, to my memories of childhood summers? They all seem remarkably sunny and long; whereas my unhappy schooldays comprise about five seconds-worth of recall in total. On the other hand, recollections of particular places like Blackpool or the Lake District, which I’ve visited a number of times at irregular intervals over many years, all conflate together whether I was eight, fifteen, or thirty in any given instance.

I recently acquired my first DSLR, and playing around with it produced one photo which took up a staggering 27MB. Rich in detail, you couldn’t fit too many of those on a little memory card, let alone on a platform which places any limits on the amount of e-space you can use. Similarly, if my memory faithfully recorded every moment of my life, it would take a whole day to recall any given day I wanted to remember. I’d remember where the cats were sitting when I opened my favourite present on my 10th birthday (a walkman). Instead of recalling the photo of the fabulous tiara and feather boa my mum bought me one Christmas, I’d remember the year it happened, what we had for breakfast before we began opening presents, and what I bought for my sister the same year.

Instead, I remember the main object in isolated snapshots. Getting my degree certificate on the antiquated stage in Whitworth Hall; the world falling dark for the few seconds of total solar eclipse I witnessed in 1999; passing a tree covered in vibrant, deep purple blossom along the Namsan route in the spring.

It made me wonder if this is why I enjoy blogging and taking photos so much. I can select the bits I might later want to recall. I can tweak the edges to make them softer, or funnier. Apparently our memory does this for us anyway to an extent – I know that the touring job I had in Italy in 2004 was a real trial of endurance, but looking back, I mostly remember stunning mental snapshots of the Italian alps covered in snow; or the rainy afternoon I trudged around Venice, captivated by its watery beauty despite my squelching trainers.

I’m often mildly bothered by my seeming inability to recall where a particular mental image comes from, or sometimes whether it was even real, but more often I’m glad that in retrospect my brain has done some great photoshopping and my life seems to have been one long, happy adventure. I’ll save faithful capture for my fancy new DSLR, while I get on with living with my mind as a crap camera.

Namsan in winter

Namsan in winter


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dad
    Dec 17, 2014 @ 06:47:04

    I can’t even remember what I did last week.



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