Where Memory Counts: Bound for the Deserts, Volcanoes, and Mountains of Northern Chile

I’m going to the deserts of Northern Chile.  I’m bringing with me a small backpack with some clothes, shoes, and a few books to read.  I’m going because I want to take a break from this chaotic world where anyone can access me wherever I am at any time of day, where with a click of a mouse or a tap on a touch screen, I can find out the GDP of Turkmenistan or read about the manias of Charlie Sheen.  I’m leaving this world where memory counts for less and connectivity counts for more.  Who cares to know about the ravages of World War II when you can look them up online?  Why carry around encyclopedias of knowledge in your head when you can turn to the all-knowing hive mind for whatever bit of information you may seek?

In the digital age will the younger generations lose touch with the massive effort and commitment that went into unearthing the information they google, writing the stories they read, and filming the movies they watch on their smart phones as they sit silently with their families at the dinner table?  Will the products of human ingenuity (and stupidity) in general become detached from the monumental efforts that went into forging them?

I worry that the young live in a world in which everything is a finished product, tailored to their wants and delivered to them on demand.  I worry that the connection we once had with the earth, our understanding of the relationship between labor and survival, weakens further as our creations become separated from the long and difficult processes that yielded them: the collaborations, the face-to-face conversations, the brainstorming sessions, the trial and error and repeated failures.

If the young live in a world of finished products, how will they learn to labor toward their own goals?  How will they know that the act of creation costs, draws energy, demands toil; and how will they know that such efforts, in order to be undertaken, must be compensated?  Ideas originate in the mind.  They may benefit from access to the hive, but for them to form in the first place the mind must swell with experiences and information and wisdom, and the connections that emerge from this rich inner-world.

I’m going to Northern Chile because I want to be in a place where memory counts.  The high deserts, the snow-dusted volcanoes that ring them, the Pink Flamingos that wade in shallow turquoise lagoons and stir barely a ripple, the Andes that stretch toward infinity to the north and to the south so that one might imagine that they wrap around the entire planet and hold it together like an unbreakable chain with a million colossal links —the whole scene is a window into the earth’s memory.  It contains knowledge dating back millions of years.  Stories flow out this parched landscape as from the mouth of a planetary Shakespeare.

I want to stand atop one of these mountains and listen to the earth as it tells me its story.  Speak to me, earth, of cataclysms, asteroid impacts, floods, and eruptions.  Tell me of braids of water that flowed into this desert long ago and carved out the wrinkles of its dessicated skin, revealed its many red, yellow and white hues.  Speak to me, earth, of dinosaurs, birds, and squirrel-like mammals that frolicked and died in your hands, and of societies that found sustenance in your soil and beauty in your cracked, age-worn face.

*Note: I should say that overall I think our world is better than it was not that long ago.  We’re more tolerant, etc.  I’m not all apocalyptic.  I just think we’ll have to learn to deal with the world we’re creating, and as always, that will be a challenge and we’ll never quite get it JUST right.

About atomsofthought
Photographer. Traveler. Writer. Reader.

30 Responses to Where Memory Counts: Bound for the Deserts, Volcanoes, and Mountains of Northern Chile

  1. This is a beautiful post. Your words sadly ring incredibly true. Enjoy your journey AND the destination.

  2. Patti Ross says:

    Your concerns ring very true–when does progress cause more problems or isolate individuals away from independent thought at creativity? I am anxious to hear the stories you will tell on your return from Chile. Us all telling our stories will be one way to keep progress from destroying us all. Travel safe.

    • Thank you! I’m glad you post your concern as a question, because that’s how I really meant it. I have worries but I still expect things to work out fine. They always have, but since past success is no guarantee against future failure, I think we have to keep working hard and questioning what exactly we want for our society.

  3. Barb Bromley says:

    It all comes down to balance and harmony. This is a very thought provoking post.

  4. pattisj says:

    I, too, am concerned with where the young generation is headed, and how different their lives are from when I was that age. Go, and bring some back to share with your students.

    • Worried, but hopeful! These are my concerns, but while it disturbs me that the gaps only seem to grow wider between how each successive generation lives and experiences the world, I also see plenty to optimistic about.

  5. diana1604 says:

    Ah, the irony of the modern age is that we are more connected than ever before and yet we have never been so lonely. But isn’t going to the wilderness another lonely avenue? 🙂

    I agree though that people tend to lose the humanity inside them so their sensitivity is lessened. This is sad. We buid walls when the internet was meant to bring us closer.

    Anyway, young people do have it easier but I don’t think they have completely lost the appreciation for the effort that go into a transformation of an idea into reality. The environment and the tools may be different now but humans still need the same effort to achieve their goals. Travelling may take a click of a button but it requires effort to digest the information and sift through EVERYTHING the internet has to offer.

    Bon voyage!

    • You’re right: going to wilderness is certainly another lonely avenue. It’s not for everyone, but I think that as long as we come back from ventures into solitude we can grow from what we learn there. I’m more worried about persistent patterns of loneliness and disconnect, especially patterns we think we’re avoiding because our world and the technology that pervades it tells us we’re always connected.

      As for young people, I worry, but I’m also hopeful. I think that as in every age, we’ll just figure things out as we go along, and societies will keep improving, people will become more tolerant, the plight of humanity will improve. There are no guarantees. It’s also possible that at some point we’ll get something terribly wrong, either in an abrupt sense or in a very gradual sense that we’ll barely notice. Only time will tell!

      Also, it’s not lost on me that I say these things in a blog that connects me with hundreds of people I never would have known. I say it all the time: I love modernity and I hate it. I certainly can’t forgo it 🙂

  6. I intended to comment on your post, but find as much interesting in the comments (which is one thing I love about blogging and the extra level of interaction it enables us to have with – or about – the writing).

    You said in the last reply: “I’m more worried about persistent patterns of loneliness and disconnect, especially patterns we think we’re avoiding because our world and the technology that pervades it tells us we’re always connected.” I think I was doing just that – disconnecting, but under the illusion that I was always connected. But then I started blogging.

    The more I blog – which is ultimately writing about myself, no matter what the actual subject matter may be – and the more I read other blogs, the more I discover things that I thought i had and don’t. (And vice versa, I discover things I thought I wanted or needed and realize I don’t actually need at all.) I wrote early on about digital communication and how it was enough to satisfy my needs. But the more I got into the interaction aspect of blogging, the more I realized that my belief was just a blind. I found my self more plugged in than ever before, and lonelier than ever for connection. I was partially lonely for conversation, and not just small talk; partially lonely for actual face to face contact.

    It adds another interesting element to the whole question, and reminds me that there are levels to this, as with anything. As for me, blogging has introduced me to some inspirational people – people that I am able to access (at least their writing) on a daily basis. And the interactive aspect keeps it fresh. I am, at least for now, addicted to my android phone and my internet and my blog….

    On the other hand, through blogging, I have been inspired to re-connect with my actual life – the one that starts when I step away from the computer and preferably out my front door, when I spend quality time with friends and family, when I engage with the real world. A 360 degree view can’t be beat by any picture on a computer screen (even when it’s just my front yard).

    So, I’m jealous – go engage with some real deserts and mountains and volcanoes. Travel safe and enjoy the solitude while you can – disconnect from the machine and reconnect with the universe. Oh, and bring us back some pictures (as if I had to ask) so we can at least look at the screen and imagine ourselves there.

    • What a great comment! I’m incredibly conflicted about all of this. Blogging has done for me many of the things it has done for you. It has helped me realize the importance of face-to-face interaction, of physical and direct experience with the world, but it has also given me something that my face-to-face encounters often lack: REALLY deep, meaningful dialogue. I’m scared to talk in my day-to-day life the way I write on this blog. I’m not even saying that the things I write here should have a place in most face-to-face encounters. But the blog does create a space for me to delve into themes that, no matter where I am or who I’m with, attach themselves to even my most mundane thoughts. I blogged when blogging was new, back when I was in college, and I’ve posted some of those things here. But then it was different… I was looking for interaction, yes, but for me blogging when I was younger was more an extension into cyberspace of the kind of journaling I’ve done since I was a kid. This time, it’s different. Now, the engagement with you and others is at least as important as the self-reflection that I would do anyway, except that I would do it alone.

      In the 90s, when I was in my early teens, I got sucked into America Online. Before that I surfed local electronic Bulletin Boards (BBS’s, as you probably know 🙂 ), played lots of text-based games even as I also played the newer “massive multi-player” games. I also hiked a lot, and played basketball, and ran track and cross country. I was an active kid, yet I was the biggest introvert I knew, and my introversion drove me to the social technology of the day. So I guess what I’m saying is that I was an early adopter of this connected world. I loved it, but I got lost in it. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the newest gadgets and online video games and to read about this so-called information superhighway that everyone I knew, old and young, didn’t really expect to spread so fast.

      Somewhere along the way I started to feel uneasy about all of it. I wanted to get the heck away from the wave of information and infinite connectivity that I felt was crashing down on us and smashing us into billions of atomized pieces. I was a kid when the world we know began to emerge and when its potential became clear, so you would think that I might have adapted to it perfectly. Except that I also remembered life before the wave hit, and I liked that world. All of my best memories came from that world. It was a more physical world. It was made of stone and concrete and gentle breezes. It was something you could touch. You could feel it on your skin. You could smell it in the air. The world was itself; it wasn’t a link to itself. It seemed like people were more flesh and blood. They weren’t virtual links to themselves either. That world is still with us, of course. We didn’t destroy reality, but we did create a new reality that I can’t touch, and in which nobody can really touch anyone. Our ideas can mingle, and this counts for a lot and is nothing new (books, radio, TV, etc. come to mind, of course), but IF immediate face-to-face interaction becomes more difficult as virtual interaction becomes easier, I’m *worried* (though haven’t concluded) that we may be losing something important. Who knows 🙂

      It’s good and maybe bad, too. Blogging has been good for me. It’s an important conduit to people whose thoughts and existence I treasure and never would have known had I stayed away. Well, basta, gotta go. I’ve spent five hours today in Barnes and Noble, trying to finally read other people’s blogs and comment and be a good person 😉

  7. Haha – you made me get back online. Ironic, huh?

    “But the blog does create a space for me to delve into themes that, no matter where I am or who I’m with, attach themselves to even my most mundane thoughts”

    I totally get that – same here. Even my mom (who has been quite enjoying the blog-through-my-daughter experience; she recently said, “like I said on my blog the other day…”) said something like that to me. She was talking about This used to be my town, and she said that we often think about these things, and even talk about them, but we don’t REALLY talk about them, we don’t discuss them and delve into the feelings part. One thing I was thinking is that it’s written. I am able to say what I’m thinking without time limit, and able go back and edit and clarify. At the same time, I can go back up and refer to the other person’s original thoughts. The Queries on my blog have opened up the most real-life discussion for me. But I don’t go around talking about infinity or poetry or even photography. Like you said, it mostly doesn’t come up. Sometimes I wish you lived next door to me, though. I think it would come up more often then.

    And I almost said that in my first comment – it’s made me want to get out there and enjoy a world that I can touch and feel. But like I said, there are levels. I think you’re right to worry about people getting so involved in it that they forgo a “normal” life – a physically active life, let’s say. But that is not solely due to the internet. This is just the newest thing to come along. The last similar thing I can really remember is D&D – people were so involved that it was sucking up their entire lives. Some people are just not comfortable out in the real world.

    And I think of my nephews – all they know is this digital world. But they are still active outside of that world. The oldest may text on his phone a lot, but he still plays soccer, is learning guitar, has a job, hangs out with his friends… I used to worry about them playing those interactive war games 24/7, but now I look at their lives as a whole and I realize, it’s all going to be okay.

    • This has to be short because I’m using… a touch screen (Nook). I’ll respond to the rest tomorrow if I have time before my flight, but here is where I see a difference between D&D and the internet:

      1. D&D and the like weren’t the very fabric of reality. Nobody had to play it, though it was there for those who needed it (a valid need of the sort I had growing up, too). To exist we must connect through the internet because it is an essential part of our world. There is no opting out.

      2. Politicians all over the country are gleeful over the idea that you can educate a kid better by sitting him in front of a computer and placing a supervising adult in the room to make sure he moves through his lessons. And it would be cheaper than traditional education. Computers for all students? Count me in. But education only by computer? No way. This sounds like oversimplification but it’s not–this is a rapidly growing trend and it is happening in schools across the country. It’s not about job security for me, either.

      3. The internet risks robbing parents of their ability to parent in a way few technologies have. Many kids I know definitely play soccer as much as ever, and I don’t see video games as necessarily nefarious. In fact I think they can be quite enriching, even the ones that seem the most mindless. Kids can learn as much about teamwork playing video games as they can playing soccer. I’m sure of it. But for all of those kids playing soccer and even playing video games in a healthy way, I’ve seen perhaps as many who rarely interact with parents or siblings and instead immerse themselves in a world of complete strangers and a few friends. This, too, has always happened, but it becomes easier when physical interaction is only selectively necessary. The world of the young has expanded, it exists more apart from that of adults, parents’ access to their kids’ reality has diminished, and the world of family has shrunk–I fear. I don’t know.

      There will always be people who find contentment in solitary endeavors, and I have been and often am one of them, but I’m worried that we have created a system in whose nature it is to guide our whole society away from the kinds of meaningful, face-to-face, physical-presence bonds that have served us so well from the beginning of everything. If the internet (or whatever we’re really supposed to call it nowadays) slowly dismantles our notion of local community, if it hides from us our still very real dependence on the earth for survival, if it weakens families and depersonalizes human interaction, then I think we do have a problem.

      Having said all of this, I know that the argument against worrying too much is that in our history we’ve gone through one communications revolution after another: writing/reading, the printing press, the telegraph, the telephone, radio, TV, etc., and now the internet. Since all of those previous revolutions only created a better world (I’m pretty sure), it follows that the internet and everything that grows out of it should probably have the same effect. Because through all of these changes WE were the constant, and we are adaptable. I accept that argument, though I place a “but” at the end of it… BUT we actually have only a few of these paradigm shifts to rely on as predictors of what will happen this time around. In other words, we’re looking at a very small sample over a very small period of human history. We don’t really know what will happen, so all I will say is that we have to be careful and think it through, and have these conversations.

      Now, are you ready to laugh? I did type every word of this (until his paragraph) on my Nook… Then my Nook froze. I was furious. It kept asking me to either wait for the browser to respond or to force it to close. These were my options. Since my text was still on the screen, and since I REALLY REALLY didn’t want to lose all of that writing (tapped with two fingers, no less!), I pulled out four paper receipts and copied the whole freaking thing onto them by hand. I then left the cafe where I had long since eaten and paid, got my laptop, walked back in, and proceeded to retype the whole thing on a wonderfully efficient traditional keyboard. My goodness… Hey, do you write by hand a lot? Just about everything I write starts by hand.

      • 1. But some people do opt out of the internet. I didn’t have it for years and years because of where I live (still don’t have cable or satellite because of access). I sometimes wished I had instant access to the world, but to be honest, I didn’t really know what I was missing. Internet was something to play games on occasionally, Facebook, a bit of email – in short, it was nice but not essential. It’s only now that I have internet that I don’t want to live without it (not a need, but a want). I watch tv shows, blogging!!!, banking (which is what I was doing when your note came through), email… that and my phone, with its even quicker access, have become part of the fabric of my day. It is an essential (ingrained, desired?) part of my world, but I know people for whom it is not an interest, much less a necessity.

        2. I agree – that’s a bad idea. In my opinion.

        3. Being a teacher, you probably have a wider viewpoint on this than I do. I can only judge by what I see in my immediate and extended family, which is that I don’t really see this happening. I can tell you that once I got a car, I was out of there. I had a job and a car, so my parents pretty much didn’t see me after that. Not only that, but I was secretive – I was 16, 17 years old, so of course I was. We still did family functions and such, but I was in my own world. So I wonder if it is a natural thing when you reach a certain age.

        As for younger kids, it’s like the television – there are going to be parents who park their kids. When I worked at a toy store, I had a parent asking for help to get her child to talk. The first thing I asked is if she talked to the little girl. “No. I don’t talk much. I basically just set her in front of the tv. I just want to find a toy that will help teach her to talk.” Well…I don’t have anything like that. I have lots and lots of interactive toys that you can play with her to help her vocalize. The most effective and important thing you can do is to talk to her yourself. “No, I’m just not someone who talks a lot. I just want you to recommend a toy that will teach her to talk”. What the hell?

        On the other hand, there is a definite trend in people having their face stuck to their phones even when they are with other people. (My friends used to have to hide the magazines, because that’s what I would get sucked into. I try really hard now not to let it be my phone.) But it’s both adults and children who do that.

        I personally do believe that parenting seems to be getting less and less interactive or involved on the whole. I think I get this impression because I’ve seen so many kids that don’t seem to be disciplined or polite or have the common courtesies. Then again, I look around and I see lots of great kids out there. So is this just a sign of me getting older? Is this me saying, “things were different when I was a kid!”

        I do think you have really valid arguments. For myself, I have a hard time reconciling what I believe about our society in general (a little scary sometimes) and what I see at home (a couple of regular nephews, second cousins, friends kids, etc.).

        And I did not laugh about the Nook issue (do you like yours? I’m curious about those things). I have had similar things happen and it’s TERRIBLE (I’m borrowing your capitals). I would have done the same thing. It’s old school copy and paste.

        I don’t do a lot of hand written anymore. There is a mood that I get in that requires writing by hand, usually it’s a diary mood, maybe a little nostalgic or melancholy. Or poetry sometimes. I do always have to have paper with me, and now my recorder (which is so much faster and I can use it in the car; also when I transcribe, that’s like the first edit). Almost everything I write now starts by recorder 🙂 .

        I love handwriting, and I love that I can see everything so much easier than scrolling through a screen, but the problem for me is that I press down so hard (don’t know why, I can’t seem to stop) that it simply hurts to do too much of it. My hand just aches. Plus I can type so much faster than I can write.

        But there is something about the physical act of putting words down on paper (perhaps it’s the creative part – taking your thoughts and making something out of them). I don’t know how to describe it other than romantic. Sounds weird, but that’s how I feel.

  8. My mother and I were just discussing this, as my husband and three teenaged children were visiting her for Independence Day weekend. Everyone besides mom and me had a handheld gadget in their face. They were in the room, but they weren’t in the room. I had a little talk with them, but unfortunately it is the way of the future, they will not hear my words, the way that we would not hear parents words about talking too much on the telephone…

    • I know exactly what you mean. I think it will all probably be OK, and I’ll just always be conflicted about it. It’s not an easy thing to see, though, when you remember something different, though maybe not something even better. Just different.

  9. Michelle, I think you’re right. I think we both have valid arguments. I hope it’s clear that I don’t expect the worst. I only worry about it, which is something I would say we’ve always done about everything newish. I disagree about being able to opt out–some people can and will, but it becomes a problem if a technology is so important that *almost* no one can opt out of it and still function in society. We’re pretty close to the point where, in this country, opting out of the internet is tantamount to opting out of society in general. That’s more true the younger a person is. A high school kid who opts out of the internet is opting out of having friends and in many cases even opting out of succeeding in school–there will be exceptions, of course.

    It all comes down to how fundamentally different today’s hyperconnective media is from yesterday’s. Kids have certainly always lived lives apart from family. There have always been tons of things parents didn’t know about what their kids were doing. I think the blind spot and disconnect are growing, and the big question is at what point does it become too much. I have no answer to that. Maybe never. Maybe we won’t even know what we’ve lost when we’ve lost it.

    Well, I had to cancel my trip. It’s a long story. I’m bummed.

    • Michelle says:

      Okay, 1 last and then I promise to shut my trap.

      I was about to agree to disgree about the opt out by saying that internet access is not at all a necessity, but it’s nice and it’s faster. Then I remembered that my company made us use the internet to choose our benefits (and they were making changes that forced every single one of us to reapply). You could call a special number only if you absolutely had to, like you did the online deal and it still didn’t go through. I did not have internet at the time and had to make a special trip to my parents house just to do this thing that you used to be able to do on the phone. Pissed me off, and it’s not right. But I have internet now, so I didn’t pay much attention to it this year – I would have done it that way anyway. In any case, I concede your point. Darnit.

      Second, I do see that it would be harder for the younger kids to not be on line.

      I never thought you were expecting the worst, but it is a bit troublesome. Maybe I feel less troubled because I’ve already gone through a round of this myself with worrying about my nephews. It was all for nought – they’re turning out just fine (relatively speaking!).

      I’m sorry to hear about your trip. I was thinking about it this morning – every thought was followed by, “and I’m here at work.” I had a little worry about it in the back of my mind, though. I don’t think I’m quite past the whole ‘I could have been killed by a crazy man who claimed I was sitting on his rock because, hey dude, I own this here island’. I’m paraphrasing of course.

      • Haha, well the good news is that I think we’re both conceding most of each other’s points 🙂 That probably sounds too conciliatory, but I think it’s true. I think this is one of those discussions that allow for multiple positions, even contradictory positions, to coexist and be neither entirely right nor entirely wrong. To tell you the truth, I think most “big idea” discussions are that way (mostly because what person is in a position to know the answers in absolute terms?), despite the polarizing nature of a lot of public discourse.

        I enjoyed this discussion over the “iniquitous” internetssss. 🙂

        I learned my lesson about trespassing on people’s islands and boulders and such. Next I think I’ll test out claims to owning bodies of water. I can already imagine it: “This is my ocean you’re swimming in. You’d better find yourself a boulder to sit on because I own this here water.”

  10. Michelle says:

    Just walked in the door and my phone dinged – perfect timing. I want to make a video for Friday’s post, so I’ve got a lot of work ahead. Nice to start off with a laugh.

    For the record, you can have my share of the ocean 🙂 .

    • change that ‘do’ to ‘so’ would ya? I thought I did it already, but I was typing on the phone. btw, still smiling – “find a boulder to sit on because I own this here water” just made my night. Now I can tackle this video, just hope I’ve got enough material for it.

  11. Michelle says:

    Did you add more? Refresh = belly laugh!

    • Not cool! That was supposed to look like spontaneous wit, when it really occurred to me after I posted the reply. Not so spontaneous!

      • It was still spontaneous, just after you hit send spontaneous! Stop making me laugh!

        I have to tell you, on my end, it was kind of like finding a treasure. I thought the first one was funny, but my phone makes me refresh after I hit publish. For whatever reason (you understand), I feel compelled to check what I wrote. As I scrolled down, I thought, hey that looks different. Then I burst out laughing. So I got to laugh twice. That works.

        • Well, I’m a little offended. That’s how I talk. I say “this here THIS” and “this here THAT” and “that there THIS over THERE” all the time. My teachers heaped such ridicule on me over the years that I managed to purge my writing of all colloquial speech… Kidding, kidding.

  12. you’re telling your secrets…so you write one way and talk another, huh? Where’s my notebook?

    colloquial – that’s one of the words that’s so fun to say. I just said it in my head about 5 times. One more…okay.

    Now stop! I’m too busy to have any more fun tonight! colloquial (stop! too busy!!)

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