Thursday, August 21, 2008

Modern technology helps preserve heritage

Hump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial Page (pg. D6)

Normally, I spend my time relaxing on Saturday evenings. For me, this usually consists of either reading, doing crossword puzzles, watching a bit of television or surfing the Internet. Most of my time online is spent either blogging, on Facebook or looking at cool videos on YouTube.

This past weekend, however, I suddenly became popular with three competing invitations for supper on Saturday evening. It's funny how those things happen. Most weeks, there's nothing much to do (not that I'm complaining -- relaxation is not a dirty word to me), and then the next thing you know, you're debating on where to go.

I was invited to two out-of-town events, both not far from each other. I was also invited to supper at my mother's place. This rarely happens on a Saturday evening, but this weekend was different. Since the out-of-town invitations came first, though, I decided to accept those and went to my mother's for leftovers on Sunday.

First, I ended up at my cousin's cabin, a very nice rustic A-frame right on a river. It's a very peaceful spot. A person could easily fall asleep in a lawn chair right next to the gurgling river not five feet away from you. Nature at its best!

I'm not a big traveller, but day trips are OK in my book, so I was quite happy to get out of the city, pop a motivational audio book into my car's CD player, and spent some quiet time learning, contemplating life, and looking forward to seeing friends and family. All in all, a pretty good day in my books!

Normally, I consider myself pretty much in-tune with family happenings, but I learned something new during this visit. I'd always known there were home movies of old family events in existence. An uncle who moved to the U.S. as a young man had a movie camera and was quite faithful at shooting footage of various events.

Like I said, I'd known that, but never really followed up on getting my hands on any of it. Apparently, there's also footage of my parents' wedding around somewhere.

From what I understand, most of the movies were taken in the old Super 8 format that has long since given up the ghost to camcorders and digital cameras. Whereas home movies were relatively rare years ago, now every kid with a computer is a videographer thanks to cheap technology and an Internet connection.

While I was at my cousin's cabin, I'd heard that there were several copies of these movies on VHS tape. To say that I was happy to hear this is an understatement. After years and years of telling myself that I was going to track down these pieces of family history, the footage had more or less fallen into my lap. Another cousin's wife told me that she knew exactly where her copy was and that I could drop by and pick it up at any time. OK, now I was getting seriously excited!

Needless to say, I'll be doing that very shortly after I get a quick out-of-town business trip out of the way. I can't wait to transfer it into a digital format so that it can be shared with everyone through the wonders of computer technology. I don't even own a VHS machine anymore, so I'll have to find someone who can convert VHS to a digital format.

Shouldn't be too hard to do, I hope!

I'm giddy with anticipation at seeing these movies. It's one thing to look at family photos, but to see people laughing, talking, walking and moving about brings back memories all that much more vividly. My grandparents died nearly 30 years ago, and seeing them "live" again will certainly be emotional. I doubt if there's any sound to the movies, but just seeing all these people who were part of your early life can only be a powerful experience.

Being able to easily share history like this is what's so great about the technological revolution we are currently in. Some people criticize computers, saying that they've taken all the "personal" aspects of communication out of our relationships. In my own experience, nothing could be further from the truth.

I spend my entire day communicating and interacting with people. Sure, a lot of it is online, but it's still a way of keeping in touch. I suppose people used to say the same thing about the telephone, too. Today, however, getting in touch with someone on the telephone seems to be losing favour to keeping in touch online.

I can't wait to share these videos online with family. And what better way to share this important family history? What good is it doing stuffed away on a tape in someone's dresser? By putting this stuff online, it can be shared with the masses -- well, at least with those who want to see it.

Who's going to put a CD, DVD, VHS tape or anything else in the mail these days? No one, that's who. They'll be downloading it off the Internet.

Sometimes day trips like the one I took on the weekend can bear more fruit than expected. I anticipated my trip to be a nice time with family and friends, but discovering the existence of these tapes just made the trip even more worthwhile.

I know when I look at these movies that I'll need to have a box of tissues nearby. With so many old memories coming back, it will likely be difficult to keep a stiff upper lip. It will be the next best thing to having these people alive and in my life again.

Today's generation will not have to worry about losing their heritage. Technology has made this the best-documented generation in history.

And that's a good thing.

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