Tangible Keepsakes of the Past

Tangible keepsakes. Pictures, letters, and old mediums, no longer in use. It is an unaltered repetition of history to leave the old in the past and seek what is simpler, newer, and faster. Tech fanatics and social media stars flock to their nearest Apple stores in chilly September weather to buy the latest iPhone. We anxiously throw our phones at the wall after posting a new Instagram picture because we know our followers see our posts as soon as we publish them. For some reason, being perceived by hundreds of people through an online medium is both exciting and incredibly paralyzing. Almost everything can be accomplished within minutes—sometimes, even seconds. 

With the click of a button, we can take a hundred photos and look at them immediately after. Hitting send allows us to exchange messages back and forth instantly. By pressing play, we can listen to our favourite artists’ new songs as soon as they’re released. It’s not often that you see someone on the street using a Yashica T4 or a Panasonic VZ10 VHS-C—two vintage cameras—or carrying around a Walkman, listening to The Beach Boys. When we do see someone with a relic, we stop and stare, as if these objects are ghosts emerging from the ashes of a forgotten past. 

I think technology numbs our brains. And yes, it is incredibly ironic that I say this while writing on my 2019 13’’ MacBook Air, preparing for this to be published online. It is also ironic because I currently have 24 posts on my Instagram account, six highlights pinned, and 33,581 photos saved in my camera roll. However, I still stand behind my point that excessively consuming media steals the power of the written word. We take a photo and completely forget that it exists until one day, we accidentally see it when we’re bored and swiping through our phone. We no longer know the magnitude of emotion while holding a physical copy of a photo. To be honest with you, I am much more likely to forget a picture in my camera roll than a picture printed and hung on my wall. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think technology has its perks. I can talk with my relatives back in Iraq and check on their well-being faster than I would by sending a letter. And, to be honest, I love being able to photo dump each month on Instagram. There is a beauty to technology: communication, art, and expression. With innovation and media constantly progressing, it is fascinating to see an invention’s origins, and how it compares to its development today. The advancement of technology gives profound appreciation for the intelligent minds who’ve been able to advance multimedia. You can’t look to the future without acknowledging the past. 

My hands graze the surface of a 2001 VZ10 VHS-C movie camera, taking in every scratch and button. The camera is old—2001 being the year I was born—and it no longer works but I know it would still appeal to any film fanatic that came across the bulky device. It’s heavy to the touch and nowhere near as light as my iPhone, which is capable of calling, taking photos, and surfing Google.

At one point, this camera was so loved. It was used to create memories and expand my father’s creativity and eye for design, his shots later immortalized on a CD. Now, the device serves as a reminder of expression and familial love.

Pictures encapsulate a multitude of dimensions—emotions, time periods, and clothing. My phone is always in hand, camera app open and ready. I take pictures of friends, interesting architecture, greenery. I suppose I’m scared that one day, I’ll forget about all the good I experience now, because sometimes I don’t remember what I had for breakfast. I feel like photos are my only connection to the past—to people from my past. Through pictures, we hear laughter and see joy. Through images, we see the emergence and disappearance of fashion fads like low-waisted jeans, Adidas Superstars, and biker shorts. In the most cliché way possible, pictures speak a thousand words. Through them, we learn about the culture, personality, and details of an era. They are permanent imprints of history. 

In my room, above of my bed, is a photo wall. I have around 60 photos beautifully stuck with double-sided tape to the white canvas, serving as a reminder of the people I’ve loved and the happiness I’ve shared. I have to mention that not everyone on my photo wall is still in my life. In some ways, it can be painful to see the effects of time, but I know that remembering the past is what helps me become a better person. If I forget who I once was, then it’s possible to repeat the same mistakes. My photos keep me humble and aware of my actions.

There’s an elegance to letters—the fading ink, the browning pages, the secrets they hold, and the handwriting unique to each writer. Before, we would sit at a table, our favourite pen in hand, spending hours perfecting our handwriting and ensuring our words were heartfelt and meaningful so that our reader, whenever they finally received the letter, would personify its constituents and make the amulets of love even more real. 

My mother has kept all her letters, dating back to when telephones were not easily accessible. Her sisters and friends would confess from the depths of their hearts, discussing their growing children, their nosy husbands, and their hopes to see each other again. Each letter is a testament to their love, and an act of defiance against the war raging back home, keeping them apart. 

When The Weeknd or Adele drop an album at midnight on a random Friday in November, millions of fans are on Spotify or Apple Music refreshing their apps minutes before the clock strikes 12. We listen to a song, and put it on repeat, eventually avoiding it by calling it “overplayed.” We learn all the lyrics, sing out loud whenever it plays on the radio, and attach great emotional meaning to each song. But with time, we forget the tunes, replacing our favourite tracks with whatever is hot and new, until the old becomes a “classic.” 

I hold fond memories of listening to Giveon’s new music when it was released. Each new album reminds me of a time in my life—each song somehow perfectly aligning with my experiences, as if Giveon sings to me directly. Yet, I’ve never felt the anticipation of burning a CD, or the excitement in building a mixtape for a crush. I find beauty in the aesthetic of carrying a Walkman, cassettes stuffed in my pockets, jamming to my favourite playlist. I’ve curated many Spotify playlists for friends, but I’ll never get to hold them in my hands, my fingers grazing a small piece of who I am. 

I’m not sitting here writing this on a typewriter, and I most definitely do not address people in letters or through a rotary phone. Still, I take pleasure in writing long and heartfelt birthday cards and curating monthly photo dumps because part of me always hopes to stay in the present—before it becomes the past. 

Changing Leaves Columnist (Volume 49); Managing Editor (May–November, Volume 49) — Aia is a fourth-year student studying Psychology and completing a double minor in French and Philosophy. She became a Staff Writer for The Medium in the 2021-2022 publishing year and was determined the team couldn’t get rid of her so soon. In her spare time, she can be found café hopping in the hopes to find the best iced chai in the GTA, writing her weirdly complex thoughts down in her notes app, or taking a million pictures a day of her friends. Aia hopes that students find The Medium and feel the sense of belonging she has felt. You can connect with Aia on Linkedin.


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