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Chuck's World | The detritus of the digital age


Last updated 12/4/2019 at 8:57pm

I was rummaging through the universal hall closet the other day, which in my case was an actual closet.

In your case, it could be something else. You’ve got one, though.

It could be an envelope or a storage locker. It might be an attic or a basement, a safety deposit box, or a shopping bag shoved under the bed, but it’s there. It’s the place where we go to rummage through the past, looking for clues among the dust mites.

Whatever your hall closet is, it’s most likely full of good intentions. This is the place where miscellaneous artifacts of an unexamined life are stored, although we intend to examine it someday.

In the meantime, though, we shove our precious mementos under the guest towels and wait for a rainy day that never seems to come.

This became literal for me, as it was an actual rainy day, and rather than run the risk of going outside and getting struck by a drop of water, I decided to clean the hall closet.

This is a quixotic thing to do. Even spending a few hours on that closet, which has been holding our random junk for more than 30 years, does nothing but rearrange the randomness. Marie Kondo would look at this space and probably suggest just moving to another house, but as I said, it was raining.

And I immediately got distracted, which is what always happens and why this closet exists in the first place. Out of sight, out of mind, and eventually out of room, but this is what’s going on. We hide our distractions until we have the time to put them in alphabetical order, which will never, ever happen.

I found a stack of DVDs, episodes of a favorite TV series from the early 1990s, back when that seemed like a good idea. Hey, we can watch it anytime we want! What a neat idea that surely won’t be rendered redundant by technology anytime soon.

I watched some of these. It was nice to dip back a quarter-century, if only to recall what strange clothes we wore, and what jokes just aren’t funny anymore.

In retrospect, the decade of the 1990s feels similar to the 1950s, when the future began to leak into the present. Just as much of the modern world first crept into our consciousness in the 1950s, from motels to McDonald’s, the decade of the 1990s ended up in a far different place than where it began.

This is how older films and TV shows can show us our journeys. They become home movies of a specific culture, and they can remind us of what we’ve long forgotten and misplaced.

In this TV series I dusted off, taking place in the first years of the decade, there’s no mention of the internet. I caught one reference to a character using a “cellular telephone,” and otherwise the most advanced technology mentioned involved fax machines.

In contrast, in 1990 I bought my first personal computer, gently cradled on a friend’s lap all the way home from the store, an expensive investment. By the end of the decade, I’d probably purchased a dozen of them, the cast-off skeletons of primitive technology left to gather dust in the basement (and occasionally in that hall closet).

Today, of course, I carry around a personal computer far more powerful than that original 1990 version, still expensive but small enough to fit in my pocket, although I sometimes stick it in my mouth when I need both hands.

Times have changed, then.

There are probably a few old flip phones in that closet, come to think of it, along with a bundle of power cords for missing machines. There are stacks of ancient media, audio cassettes and VHS tapes that we hold onto in case, I guess, they come back in style; I’d have trouble finding a machine to play them.

And, of course, there’s the universal shoebox full of photos. You also have one of these, at least if you’re older than 45 or so, loose pictures that never found a home in an album, hundreds of photos that can’t be searched by keyword or facial recognition. They’re personal and valuable, and they exist for no discernible reason other than sentiment and a lack of discipline.

They only survive because the shoebox does.

This is my point – one of the promises of this glorious technological revolution that began 30 years ago was that we could finally declutter our lives, and make that universal hall closet a place for linens only.

Our photos would all be neatly arranged in digital folders, our music and other entertainment available at any time with a mouse click, our important papers encrypted and stored in the cloud. Junk would be a thing of the past.

Instead, I have a closet full of useless power cords and obsolete cellphones. I not only have a shoebox of old photos, I have thousands of digital pictures, most of which involve parking stalls, grocery lists, and food. I plan on deleting those someday.

Maybe I’ll just put them in alphabetical order.

And maybe this is just being human, needing those tangible scraps of time that we can actually touch. It just struck me as funny, but at least I got a clean closet. I took a picture of it, even.

Which I plan on deleting.



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