Monday, January 26, 2004

 Scanning redux 

I spent a good part of the previous weekend scanning more old class notes (see my previous note for context). I spent a little time trying to make the process more efficient - not an easy task with a $100 PSC (printer/scanner/copier). The device works pretty well actually, but it is unrealistic to expect it to be all that fast or too easy to operate out of the box. (The old adage 'Good Fast Cheap - pick any two' comes to mind...) Still, after many iterations as well as some painful mistakes, I think I've figured out a way to reliably save different types of notes and reports. Among other things, I've learned how to save handwritten notes in color PDF files that don't take up too much disk space. Such notes comprise a majority of all that I am trying to save.

While doing all this it is impossible to avoid the question that begs to be asked: simply put, "Why bother?" I've got thousands of pages of notes, many of which date back 10-15 years, and yet I'm scanning them as though my life depended on maintaining an accurate record of all that time spent in classrooms. Then of course, it dawned on me that perhaps that was exactly why I was doing this.

Does my life really depend on these notes? Well....that's probably an overstatement. But it is clear that I place a very high premium on knowledge and memory, and that my notes signify both these things to me. I've pondered recently what constitutes personal identity, and have come to understand the enormous role that memory plays in this. A movie I saw last year which concretized that notion for me was "Memento", with Guy Pearce in the starring role as a man on a mission to find his wife's killer, in spite of his recent brain injury that prevents him from remembering anything that happened more than 20 minutes ago. It's a remarkable film, and there are a couple particular moments in it where Pearce's character explores the meaning of his own memory loss and how it has come to define his whole existence.

LEONARD: I know I can't have her back, but I want to be able to let her go. I don't want to wake up every morning thinking she's still here then realizing that she's not. I want time to pass, but it won't. How can I heal if I can't feel time?

So what am I trying to preserve by scanning these notes, which makes it more likely they will last in perpetuity? Perhaps I see all this as a compendium, not just of the subject matter (which in itself means a lot to me) but also of the occurrences that have led me to where I am today. When I re-read what I've written, I can rediscover not just who I turned into when I learned things from these classes, but I get a glimpse of what I was like before I learned any of it. Put another way, my insistence on keeping all this stems largely from a deep-seated fear that by simply chucking these notes, I disconnect myself from an intensely formative time in my life, from which I extract so much personal meaning. When you feel that strongly about something, justified or no, it's hard to simply let it go.

Put yet another way, I'm trying really hard to keep feeling "time".

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