The Story of Stories: The future of memory

Readers, it’s been a great semester exploring stories with you all. In this final issue, I’d like to turn your attention to a more terrifyingly ephemeral topic: your memory. As we graduate and move onto this so called “real life,” what kind of narrative do we write for ourselves in order to remember our time at Tufts? We know that memory is imperfect, so inevitably, we will intentionally or unintentionally emphasize or even draw up stories to cement Tufts in our life experience.

The truth is, you can never really remember an experience — only reconstruct it. When I was about 11-years old, I remember sitting on a boat, and for whatever reason, I decided to begin an experiment that has lasted over a decade at this point. I wanted to see how perfectly I could recall a specific moment in my life. At that moment, a bucket of water was thrown onto the deck in order to wash away a chalk diagram of a jellyfish my camp counselor had drawn. This image has stayed with me for years, but in all honesty, I think by this point, most of this memory has been fabricated; the stormy skies, the bright blue (or pink?) chalk drawing dripping off the side of the craft. No matter how hard I try to remember my feelings, my reasoning or even the actual things I saw — my mind can only fill in those gaps.

Science tells us that memory is imperfect. As best as I understand it, the more we replay a memory in our head, the more fractured it becomes and the more fabricated we must make it in order to fill in the gaps. To no one’s surprise, there’s a fantastic RadioLab episode about this titled “Memory and Forgetting,” which I highly recommend. But anyways, humans unfortunately do not possess perfectly eidetic memory, so we cannot rely on memory alone to help us remember a place or an experience. This is why people take photos, journal and record video — to show them what their minds can only summarize.

Last month, I wrote about how we use social media to represent fictionalized and idealized versions of ourselves, rewriting our flawed selves into almost characters. My concern with my Tufts experience is that most of what I have to remember my experience at Tufts by are these Facebook posts, Snapchats, Instagrams … What if I forget all the pain, all the doubt and all the struggling that happened in between? Seniors, it’s not that I think that we should all be constantly reliving our imperfections, but I do think that our flawed stories are formative and make us who we are today.

What I’m trying to say to the class of 2016 — in my own kitschy way — is that we are never going to perfectly experience Tufts ever again. Our minds aren’t built that way. So as we record this highly ceremonial day forever into our family albums (or Facebook albums), don’t be afraid of documenting the sadness that comes with leaving friends behind, or the anxiety that comes with not knowing your next steps. In the end, it will make you a much more complex person (or character, if you will?) in the unfolding drama of your own life.