Remembrance of things (not quite) past
Tim Tebow and Albert Pujols gave us plenty to remember last weekend. But will we?
It was the worst football game I've ever seen that I wasn't playing in myself. Awful.
So which Tim Tebow will most of us remember? The suddenly inept wunderkind, misfiring passes into the fourth row? The tackling dummy? The fumbling, sackable chump? Or the cool head, all Jack Armstrong muscle and Christian grit, who lifts a city on his back and carries it to victory?
(No knock on my undead colleagues, but I'll give you just one guess which lever the zombie sporting press pulls. The one that delivers the food pellet.)
In fact, I have to ask how much of this past weekend we'll remember in any way at all. Because like everything else in the Information Age, the getting and spending of memory has changed.
What about that Spartans' Hail Mary? Remember that? Or the Manchester City blowout of Manchester United? Or the New Orleans thrill-kill of Indianapolis?
All of it once-in-a-lifetime stuff. Already gone.
What about Game Day 162? That baseball day so many of us claimed we'd never forget? Back when so many teams played themselves into and out of the playoffs? Unforgettable, right? Or is Sept. 28, not even a month gone, already lost to us?
How? It all seemed so timeless at the time.
Because maybe the endless avalanche of postmodern media in every form deadens memory rather than sharpens it. The instantaneous nature of social media commentary, and the digital/mechanical process of mass storage and image reproduction, might mean we all bring a lot less imagination to the making of memory.
There is now a mountain of memory stuff we're trying to sift and store. We fast-forward through more pictures than we ever thought possible, most of them unballasted by context, rushing past us weightless and detached from meaning. Compare a television sports highlight package in any form today to one presented in 1990. To say nothing of 1960 or a newsreel from 1940. We bring less brain power to bear generally on imprinting more moments, in part because so many move past us so quickly; in part on the assumption that someone or something else will store them for us. Good. We all get to see more and experience more and share more this way.
But only briefly. And how do you separate the iconic from the ordinary when everything is weightless?
We don't. There's the trouble. And we don't need to store any of these images very long either, because thanks to your blog or Twitter or Facebook or BlackBerry, we've said whatever needs saying about them 15 seconds after it happens.
So our record of reality expands exponentially, but somehow the world seems less reliable because of it. The act of taking things in, then making memory and assessing memory, required an absolute effort in years past. Those analog memories felt more genuine even when they were more deeply colored by the limits of ignorance or mythology.
Everything we take in today feels as slick as a brand strategy. A promotion. Another "must see" that's forgotten the second it's seen.
Any genuinely exciting Tebow moments were dulled by the canned build-up that came before them. The actual joy of those stunning Pujols at-bats were dulled by what followed. So, weirdly, our emotions are broadly flattened the more "information" we take in.
Add to this the sense that baseball itself hasn't made a new memory since the Kirk Gibson home run, and you have to suppress a laugh when the well-intentioned tell you that Mr. Pujols will live in the game's esteem for as long as Reggie and the Babe.
And please don't roll your eyes when headlines like "Tebow Stuns Winless Miami" begin to appear. Because in 24 more hours, it won't matter if you actually saw the game. It's myth-making; revisionism that depends on your failing memory. It's about selling papers and page views. By the end of the week, it might even seem true. But it isn't true; it's an ad campaign. That's the danger. That having made so few memories of our own, we buy the ones made for us by the shoemakers and the brewers and the bankers.
Turns out the computer ads are right. Memory is cheaper than ever.
Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow his Twitter.com feed @MacGregorESPN.