Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Memory Comes From Mining Our Personal NSA

Remember when we used to order paper checks, there was always a page at the beginning of each booklet confirming your address?

Well, I just realized that my mom collected those over the years along with return addresses clipped from letters, giving me a personal history of all of the houses I’ve lived in since birth.  What a valuable gift.

Drilling down on Google Maps, it has given me an snapshot of each of those addresses as they appear today including the ability to preserve snippets as photographs for those I didn’t have.Ora Ranch House 2013

One dwelling no longer exists, but this has given me the ability to not only fill in some of my personal history but my daughter’s, showing her where her mom and I first lived, where she came home from the hospital, where she later came to visit me during law school, and where she used to visit her grandparents and sail at the lake.

What a gift my mom has given me.

The house shown in this blog is the ancestral Idaho ranch house to which my parents first brought me home after birth and where I spent my early years.  It is also where my dad was born.

It is a very modest log house to which my grandparents added siding for insulation.  It is the house where my parents first lived when my dad returned from WWII to that Yellowstone-Teton nook.

At that time my grandparents moved further down the Henry’s Fork to Saint Anthony in the southern part of Fremont County.  They had purchased additional land for the ranch a few years earlier, and took the house situated on that side and literally moved it 13 miles to that town about half way to Rexburg.

My grandparents were obviously consummate recyclers.  Many ranchers are.

I remember when my parents paid $10,000 dollars to erect that equipment shed in the background.  It was built from scratch but modeled on the Quonset Huts my dad saw during service with the 35th Tank Battalion.

I remember learning to play football in the front yard and when an old buggy I found abandoned in a grove of trees was pulled up next to the house as a flower planter until it finally disintegrated.

The trees seem taller now along Snow Creek as it curls around the house and out buildings.  Before my grandparents added a well and indoor plumbing, the trees cleaned waste water filtering underground to the creek (pronounced crick.)

A front gate entrance has been added to the one already coming in after the bend in the road near the equipment shed, forming a u-shaped drive. The front porch and chimneys are gone and the back porch has been moved along the side and maybe the entrance as well.

Two old woodsheds (literally filled with split wood that had once been used to fuel the kitchen stove and fireplace) are long gone, now just compost feeding a tree line shielding the house from blizzards.

By the time I was born, the stove was electric and the heating fuel was oil, but the sheds were places where as a pre-schooler I would bravely confront wood chucks, backed up by huge farm cats and subsequently Mickey, a border collie puppy my grandfather got from Basque sheepherders who stopped by each year.

Studies show that much of what we call memory is subconscious, out of range of recall.  Think of it like the NSA scooping up millions of phone, emails and text conversations and data banking them for study if needed to prevent acts of terror.

According to Harvard researcher Dr. Daniel Gilbert in his book and blog entitled Stumbling on Happiness, our memory doesn’t actually retrieve information.  Memory is rewoven or fabricated from the bits of data scooped up by our personal NSA.

Time compresses, so what we can recall is often rewoven with current information which is why writing Bull City Mutterings, I always research things I recall to verify my memories.

A researcher named H.F. Spitzer conducted a famous study of recall from reading textbooks in 1939.  He found that subjects remembered 17% of what was read which led to development of various learning techniques such as spaced repetition and testing.

Of course, we don’t study in order to recall as much as to learn how to think critically, including learning an architecture for making choices.  We can always look up what details we have forgotten.  Relying on memory alone can be tricky.

All of that is to say that I marvel at how two technologies, one discarded,such as checking address confirmation slips.and the other cutting edge such as GIS can help me reweave memories of both joy and pain.

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