Sunday, April 26, 2009

Remixing My Past

A month ago, I had to return to my father's house due to shaky personal finances. Even if I had enough money to pay the rent, I could not pay anything else in Mérida, so, I returned to Valera for a bit.

My father got an offer to set Internet service, even if we live in a semi rural area, so I could do stuff online while way from Mérida. I taught him how to use the computer, set an e mail account and use Google, look for stuff in MercadoLibre, our local e-bay clone, Facebook, and use Youtube. It was a long and difficult process, dad is from another time and it seems that concepts about UI that are second nature to me and instantly obvious, are much more abstract and difficult to grasp for him. Even the existence of search bars independent of Firefox's address bar seems to be confusing for him. Even more confusing was the fact that the same query in different websites gave different results.

Even if I complain bitterly about not being able to use a computer until I was 15 or so, and not having one of my own until I was 21, so, I could not learn to code while I was a teenager, I am very lucky to have learnt the basic while I still had plenty of neural plasticity, as the process is not easy to learn if you are not used to.

Classes were getting difficult, as the Internet seemed to be too abstract and alien to him. However, once he realized that he could look for pretty much anything in Youtube, he started to get better, and be browsing because he wanted to, rather than because he had to. He cried watching old videos, of the music that my grandmother used to listen to.

He was mesmerized, enjoying music he thought lost forever, astounded by its immediate availability (and annoyed by the slowness of the connection, thank you CANTV!). And the, suddenly, it was like living my childhood again, disordered, as he was going through scores of songs that I listened when I was a kid, over the years, music that now I do not like, but also music that has been with me since then. Salsa, Venezuelan rock, llanera music, bolero, Cat Stevens, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Cazador Novato, everything was there, and we kept leaping from video to video, commenting the years in which we listened to it, saying things like “it was before 1990, because your brother hadn't born yet” or “no way it is from from 1989, I remember that song when I was 4, so it's at least 87” or “I remember that song when I was 7/ I danced it when I was younger than you are” . Music made us closer, as we hadn't been in years. And thanks not only to a corporation, but to thousands of users uploading their content, their precious jewels stored in tapes during the years, until the time came for that information to be free.

The memories our sessions brought were bittersweet and nonlinear. I could be listening something that reminded me of a road trip when I was 5, and then another song 10 years later and then another one that was popular when I was 8. In that noncontiguous trip to our memories we went through an emotional roller coaster, talking to each other, comparing our feelings, healing our wounds, opening old ones and realizing how futile arguments are, for even if we remained strained there is nothing we can do to erase our common past, that is going to die with us. And both of us may not die in a very long time; he is only 49, so even without surprises in healthcare, he is likely to be with us at least 25 years, and if we have surprises and I can afford them for him, he might live until the 23 years of extra experience he has are a trivial difference, so it would be a heavy burden to carry on (OK, with the murder rate in Venezuela being what is, I could die before 5 years). Many of the mysteries of my childhood were solved with our conversations, and using Facebook we saw what had become of some people we met back then, their children, their achievements, the ever writing story of people growing, reproducing, but now sharing with us all those small treasures, the smiles and first steps, their little joys and sorrows, so shallow in 2d, zeroes, ones and 16 million colors, yet so powerful.

Sadly, I realized that even if we became as close as we hadn't been since I was 8 years old, there is still a vast valley among us, and that even if I wanted, I could not go back home without turning home in something completely different. I cannot share their way of life anymore, only tolerate it for brief periods, I am different now, even if the sirens sing and call me home. Even if dad smiles and I see myself smiling in his features, and calls me home, I just can't go back.

The great voice of Cat Stevens (aka Yusuf Islam) sung this before I was born, better than I can explain with my clumsy words:

Its not time to make a change,

Just sit down, take it slowly.

You're still young, thats your fault,

Theres so much you have to go through.

Find your girl, settle down,

If you want you can marry.

Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy.


All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside,

It is hard, but it's harder to ignore it.

If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them, they know not me.

Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away.

I know, I have to go.

Cat Stevens, Father and Son, 1970

It does not matter if I can't go back. Now he is on my Gmail address book and I will be able to Skype him once he learns how to use it. We can stay in touch and I certainly will return soon. Maybe eventually I will leave this country, but now my father is also globally connected.

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Jesús Pineda said...

... and the Luddites keep saying that all this technology is keeping us isolated, trapped in twittering cocoons wrapped in Facebook accounts. I say balderdash! I've never been more connected to the people around me.

I say bring more communication technology and more open information... well that and those yummy Google netbooks I've been reading so much about :P

Madeline said...

This is a really beautiful entry. Thanks for sharing!

Guido said...

Thanks for the comments.

I really appreciate the feedback. It encourages me to keep writing.

Indeed, technology is changing, to me these interactions are more powerful and engaging than watching a TV, no feedback, passive observers, even if all the family is watching the same thing.

Thanks, Madeline.
You have a great blog, btw.