virtual children by Scott Warnock

Motion pictures of everything

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My dad found an old grainy video of my brother and me when we were about 7 and 8 years old doing – what else? – some wrestling on a lawn. He had it converted from 8 mm to a DVD and titled it “Yesterday.”

There we were, these silent figures moving on the washed-out film. It has a kind of ghostly look, almost like two restless spirits tussling on the grass. We appeared to know the camera was on us, looking at the lens and hamming it up in between poorly executed hammerlocks.

I found it fascinating to watch, at least partly because such artifacts are rare. I found it odd to see what I looked like in the past when I was in motion. Of course I have seen enough pictures, but I don’t have access to videos of myself.

Things are different now. Kids growing up today will have hundreds if not thousands of videos of themselves that they will be able to watch at the touch of a finger. Many events and aspects of their lives will have been captured, usually by adoring amateur videographers who place them at the center of every frame.

What might this mean to their sense of and understanding of themselves? What might it mean in the way that they see who they are to the rest of the world?

In their view, they will be able actually to see who they were and how they operated – in their memories of youth, these moving images will help fill in the scene.

I have these terribly inaccurate memories of my youthful self. Did you ever revisit a site of your childhood exploits? How small that sledding hill is? How near to civilization those wild woods are? How short the field you played football on really is? The past seems to stretch them all out, expanding distance and to some extent even time. Unless we have that chance encounter with hill or woods or field, we fill in the rest with untrustworthy memories.

In that old 8 mm video, which was shot by the first polymath I think I ever met, an interesting old guy named Jim Ploucher whom my grandmother worked for as a caretaker, I see a flitting glimpse of me. I get a little trailer of a movie about a long-past childhood that was, ultimately, never filmed.

Many children today may get almost the whole movie. I wonder what that will do to their sense of self-narrative? What will their imaginations of self, their views of who they are, be when they have had so much access to artifacts that show them what in fact it really looked, and perhaps was, like?

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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5 Responses to “Motion pictures of everything”

  1. Can I get some of that?

  2. Hi Scott, hope you and your beautiful family are doing well. This post really brought back lots of memories to this old brain as I smiled at images streaming through my mind. Growing up in a time of no cellphones, videos and few still shots…is such a gift…those high hills, dark forests and hit the bat games will never be altered. Still love your articles! Have a great summer!

  3. Old videos are the best and that is great you could see yourself!

  4. Always such a treat reading your words!

  5. While teenagers may not be wise I find myself giving them broad credit in electronics, specifically because they have more exposure, more experience. While most adults of “my” generation (being right on the same dot on your timeline) fret over this generation being too self-centered, too focused on “likes” selfies or other vanities, the teens I hear seem to consider themselves more realistic than their parents. The teens see their exposure as evoking honesty, reality and truth. While I may be prone to rose-colored glasses about high school and have few images to disprove my view – EVERYone has images to disprove and shred of vanity, excessive ego or bragging of today’s youth. While imagination of their past may be lacking, I don’t quite see the correlation that this honesty, this truth actually limits what they dream for themselves – except possibly when they post dreams of being multi-billionaire models and a peer points out they are likely too short for current haute-couture…

    Of course – this should probably have the disclaimer that I actually trust the teens I know…

    But thanks for the reminder of age.. AGAIN?

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