YouTube is only part of the story

OPINION

(Marcel Weber/Getty Images )
July 28, 2013|By Hector Luis Alamo Jr., @hectorluisalamo | For RedEye

In 50 years, when my generation is old and gray, we won't have stories to tell the young folks. We'll have videos.

I visit my grandma regularly in Humboldt Park. We sit at the kitchen table, and I spend a couple of hours listening to her stories over black coffee and sweet bread. She tells me about being a little girl in the Honduran countryside, teaching in the capital city, coming to Chicago, my mom's first American Christmas. All the while, I'm thinking, "Man, I wish they had cellphone video and YouTube back then."

Yet I realize that, had YouTube been around back then, I wouldn't be sitting at my grandma's house every week, listening to her stories and drinking coffee. Had there been video, she'd just say, "YouTube it" or "It's on my Facebook."

We've all witnessed the preoccupation with capturing everything on video—at a concert, a sporting event or a party. There's always an iPhone or Android floating in the air somewhere, flash on, red light blinking.

Most of us don't even put half of what we record on Facebook or YouTube. The video either stays on our phones or, if we think it's extra special, gets stored in some computer file with a random date on it that looks like a serial number. These videos are shuffled away like normal memories, just waiting to be pulled out at a kitchen table with coffee and bread. But they're not our real memories.

Videos are supposed to remind us of a memory and, for the people who weren't there, to show what it was like. But a video can't capture what the concert was like, people all around you, the music rattling your rib cage. A video doesn't come close to capturing the view from the top of that hill you climbed, because videos are terrible at capturing scale. Wide fields and tall mountains look miniature compared to what they were like in real life. Videos never convey how hot it was that day on the Vegas Strip, what the ocean smelled like or what it smelled like inside the bakery. The lions at the zoo always look smaller on screen, and the cars at the racetrack never move as fast.

Videos don't tell stories. There's no beginning or end. It's just a snippet of what happened. The people who weren't there don't know what happened before or after.

If we spend too much time trying to capture all of life's moments on film, we might be unable to recall the details of our own lives. And in the end, we're mostly our memories. Think about it: If your entire memory were erased tomorrow, would you still be you?

Let's hold up the cellphones a little less and open our eyes, ears and nose a little more. Because 50 years from now, someone will think the memories in our heads are more valuable than the memories on our computers.

Hector Luis Alamo Jr. is a RedEye special contributor.

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