As we approach 2020 we are not living in space as imagined, but in a cloud. Storing our memories, opinions, images, and pasts somewhere up there in the virtual world. The stories of who we are kept in byte sizes, a giant mass of virtual reality - data without a narrative. But throughout the analogue world, stories of our lives are still being curated.
Greeting Card - Tobias Saul for Lagom Design
Mini museums of the self, collected in shoeboxes, suitcases under the bed that record the fleeting moments of our lives. But why? Why do we feel the necessity to hang on to our personal paper trails and notebooks, moving them from home to home, from decade to decade? Why are we so insistent on keeping our memories on paper.
There is something in the act of keeping that is almost sacred and teaches us what we value most.
Memories are the essence of who we are, who we thought we were, where we came from, and where we wanted to go. But memories fade and disappear, and although we can store our moments digitally, there's something more permanent about paper. If stored correctly, paper can last for centuries and opening a letter or greeting card from the past is like opening a little window of memory.
A loving card from our Postco range
Greeting cards from friends you no longer see, a bundle of cards from a special day or a milestone birthday remind us of moments in our life we held dear. Dear enough to hold onto this ephemera for which in some cases is decades of our lives. We know that these things happened but holding a physical representation of the time and place remind us how much we have been loved. There is something in the act of keeping that is almost sacred and teaches us what we value most.
It's not merely that digital devices and formats change that make paper so special, there's something about the tactility of paper than enhances the memory and is immensely pleasing to our sentimental impulses. The smell of the paper, the way it feels to our touch and the way it has changed with age all aid memory retrieval. The faint smell of a personal scent on a lover's letter, the feel of quality card or the comforting touch of a well-worn notebook all add to a full sensory experience of recapturing emotional memory, how it felt to be there. It's no wonder that many people perform the cliched act of kissing letters or burning the evidence of a love affair gone sour. Our emotional memories are deeply embossed into the paper, marks that become deeper over time.
The object can even become a memory in itself, one that changes as time passes. The type of paper used, handwriting and stationery style dates the sender and us too. Was the letter ripped from a ruled notepad and written in coloured biro or penned on headed paper in perfect cursive. All of these details have a social context and can tell us a lot about the social etiquette of the time.Our boxes and cases full of paper memories could be seen as sentimental junk, but historically they can treasure troves of family history.
We may not all live important lives of note, but our letters, cards and notebooks can leave a paper trail for those who come after us. Love letters and cards can let our children know their parents once loved each other or even unveil a secret that was too painful to be spoken aloud. Perhaps the most revered paper items we keep are those given to us by people who have since passed. It's very difficult to throw away the last birthday card your grandmother sent you or the first card your child wrote to you in their own hand.
" We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were." Joan Didion
Living in the moment is important but all of the moments in our past make us who we are. We collate our pasts with the ephemera we chose to keep, and we have a selective memory. We don't keep mementoes of misery, of the bad times and the disappointments and failures. We keep the things that made us happy from the people that gave us the memories we want to keep. Because when the bad times do come, they are reminders that we were loved and appreciated and are a gentle reminder that happiness will come again.