Instant Memory Machine

My wife, daughter and I just got home from 10 days in Florida. We did the Disney and beach thing. It’s okay if you didn’t even realize I was gone. I didn’t tell you. I didn’t really want you to know.

I don’t post updates or vacation pictures on Facebook or Twitter when traveling. Part of this is a safety habit meant to prevent thieves, villains and sundry unscrupulous friends of friends of friends from targeting my house for mischief. It happens. Or, I think it happens. Or, if it doesn’t actually happen, it feels like something that should happen if it doesn’t. At the very least, it is something that is certain to happen now, since you will be watching my posts for pictures or absence of pictures. There’s no winning.

When I am traveling, you won’t see the picture of my 8 year old daughter waiting patiently at the airport, looking very much the practiced air traveler with her headphones, slightly bored expression and jug of chocolate milk. You won’t see the picture of me hanging with Rafiki or the dozen or so selfies of my wife and I smooshing face in some not-well-lit spot. You won’t see these things because I won’t post them yet. These are my memories. I want to keep them to myself a little longer.

Don’t worry. I will share them. I love to share them. I just get weary of the constant impulse to share pictures as evidence of Good Things happening while the Good Things are actually still happening. I want you to know something about my life but I don’t really want you there with me. Or, perhaps, I have it backwards. I want you with me but, when I share a picture of something that is happening while it is happening, it takes me away from the moment just a little. When I am sharing a thing to bring you all with me, I am making myself a little less there myself. I am a little less aware. I participate in that moment just a little bit less and and it belongs to me just a little bit less.

The ease of taking and sharing images makes is harder to protect the lines of genuine experience. Social networks exacerbate the situation, but they do not cause it. You may recall die hard photographers of a certain generation who would capture a moment on film and then miss out on the next several while gently fanning that precious scrap of self-exposing film called Polaroid.

When my wife and I married almost twenty years ago, my uncle rushed his photos of our ceremony through One Hour Photo so he could share the pictures of the ceremony that just happened at our reception.

I call this phenomenon the Instant Memory Machine. It is a very human thing and isn’t caused by technology, though I think our technologies increase potential for our actual experiences to get overrun by the documents of those experiences.

And so, kind friends, I ask that you wait. I’m going to keep these memories to myself just a little bit longer. I’m going to wrap myself in them like a suit of armor for my first day back to work. I’m going to marinate in them until I feel soft and well-saturated by the fullness of them. And just when the memory starts to settle, I will push them out into the world for the likes and the faves and the comments which are an important part of the Instant Memory Machine, that help me construct the narrative of who, what, when, where and why. The experience will be over and we can create something new out of it together. We can start the reminiscing, the storytelling and take the best parts of it all and latch them together to make something shared and useful.

But, still, there is that urge. The desire to share even just a little. Because somewhere inside of me remains the feeling that perhaps none of it really happened unless I have made evidence and shared evidence with someone else. And now, I can’t get this idea out of my head and so, not because you asked, but because it is my very human nature and I feel a kind of responsibility to feed the Instant Memory Machine. Just a little. Just this one. For now. Just so you can know I didn’t make this up. This actually happened. I was there. I wanted you there with me. I came back to bring a bit of it to you.

I got flashed.

A few weeks ago, I got flashed. It happened on September 22 at 7:21am. I was driving to work, minding my own business, not hurting anyone. I was on the turnpike in front of the high school. It was still dark outside and my mind was turning around the things I needed to do at work that day. NPR was on the radio. I took a sip of coffee, but before I could even swallow it happened.

I got flashed.

A week later I received my traffic ticket in the mail. A $50 fine for traveling 32 in a 20. This was 7:21am in the morning. It was a school zone. The flash was from the silent sentry, the City of Oak Ridge Photo Enforcement Program.

My town has been doing the photo enforcement thing for about two years now. They went up at three major intersections to increase road safety after a middle school girl was run over by a school bus on her way home from school.

It was hard to debate the merits of increased traffic safety. A few libertarian types cried foul and posted yard signs admonishing no one in particular to “Obey the Constitution. Kill the Traffic Cameras.” Every now and then you see a bumper sticker that says something about illegal revenue cameras. A few people raised privacy concerns, though was privacy entitlements exist while driving along the 3 major roads in town weren’t well expressed.

In general, the cameras went up and no one really freaked out too much. I was actually surprised by how little I minded them being there. The cameras have made me a better driver. I am more mindful of my speed when rolling through school zones or across the city center during the middle of the day. There’s nothing wrong, to my mind, with a safety enforcement measure that makes me focus more on being safe than on looking for cops to see how fast I should really be going.

And that’s what’s so mystifying about this recent flashing. I got picked up on camera by the Silent Sentry doing 32 in a 20 MPH during school zone hours. Like most school zones across America, there’s a yellow light that blinks when the 20 MPH limit is in effect. When the light blinks, you drive 20. When the light doesn’t blink, you drive 35.

So, the careful reader will note that I was actually behaving rather well for any other time of day. I was 3 miles per hour under the usual speed limit. And I don’t remember the light flashing. In fact, I actually remember thinking to myself how surprising it was that the light was not flashing at 7:21am on a school morning.

I was being careful. I was being obedient. I was being observant.

And so, when my ticket arrived, I told my wife not to worry. I would simply set a court date and explain that the light was not blinking when I traveled through and, since I was clocked at a speed well under the usual speed limit, it was only right to dismiss my ticket and congratulate me for being a responsible, careful, conscientious driver.

So this evening, I finally decided to review the traffic camera footage online. Just to establish the rightness of my claim. When I watch the video, I see the yellow school zone light was dutifully blinking in the far right of the frame. It blinks 2 or 3 times and then my silver Prius goes whizzing by at a speed much greater than the cars approaching in the other lane.

This is what you call getting busted. This is the mystery of memory. I clearly remember thinking how strange it was that the school zone was not yet in effect as I traveled through. I clearly remember that light not being on and watching my speedometer to be sure I was holding it under the required 35.

I was wrong.

This is why I don’t mind having cameras posted in public areas where obedient drivers can be safer drivers. Because I was traveling too fast at the wrong time of day.

I have friends who argue that these traffic cameras are unconstitutional because they do not allow you to confront your accuser. The erosion of privacy and the automation of law enforcement are certainly things worth worrying about. But I don’t buy the argument that traffic cameras are unconstitutional.

This evening I confronted my accuser. I logged onto a website and watched a 12 second video of myself breaking the law. I confronted my accuser and lost.

I won’t be scheduling that court hearing. I am mailing a check for $50.

Justice prevails.