Saturday, April 23, 2016

Why do we have a Facebook and not a Voicebook?

I just realized something. Over the centuries the human cultures have always preserved visual depictions such as paintings and portraits quite well. Even better we have 3D visual representations of humans such as sculptures, busts and statues. We have lifelike representations of Greek and Roman men and women in painting and sculpture, although several other civilizations (Persia, China, India) can claim similar achievements. Below and on the left I show a mosaic of a Mycenaean woman, a roman copy of an ancient Greek original now called the Borghese Ares, and another roman copy of the Aphrodite by the Greek sculptor Praxiteles. In all of these representations the movement and expression are so bursting with life that we feel the sculptures are about to walk and touch us. And yet such perfect images always have a certain sadness, since we know they are unable to speak. All statues therefore look like beautiful figures of mutes, perfect in their looks and yet forever trapped in their inability to speak, to scream what they feel.
But the truth is that humanity was unable to preserve voice and sounds for most of its history. We know the written language of Homer, Sappho and Pindar, and the meaning of their poems, but no one knows how their language sounded. Some scholars speculate their language had no accent on the syllables and that it may have sounded like a flowing rhythm as some French poets speak in modern days. Only in the late 19th century did Edison invent the sound recording. However, in the late 20th century it is quite easy for us to make sound recordings or even video recordings of ourselves, therefore mixing both sound and image as memories.

But how many of us do indeed preserve sound as a memory? For decades most families collect photo albums as a sort of memory book. High schools and college graduates would keep books with photographs of their classmates, either as individuals or together in a group photo. But how many of us preserved sound recordings of our family? Or of our classmates?

Even more troubling. Why do we now have on Facebook photo memories of all our friends' special moments, their family, beach vacations, travels and even dinner events? Why don't we have sound memories or recordings kept on a sort of Voicebook? Humans are the only animal that can speak and sing. Many birds, cats and dogs look beautiful, yet none of them speak. Words and emotions of grief, passion and empathy, are what makes us special and unique.

Is it because we have plenty of interest in looking at each other as eye-candy and yet we have nothing to say? Maybe that explains why we all feel misunderstood and unheard. Not even a thousand of photos of us at the gym, beach or touristic spots, will ever make a single word heard! Maybe we should go beyond just looks and listen more. We have dreams, hopes and pains to speak. I finish my thoughts with one of my favorite poems by Cavafy. It really makes my heart beat, because the poet has forgotten how his loved one looked like, yet the impression of his voice, his words still fills him with memories, meaning and sound.

"December, 1903" (Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard)
And if I cannot speak about my love—
if I do not talk about your hair, your lips, your eyes,
still your face that I keep within my heart,
the sound of your voice that I keep within my mind,
the days of September that rise in my dreams,
give shape and color to my words, my sentences,
whatever theme I touch, whatever thought I utter.

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