On Anecdotes and Other Stories

closeThis post was published 12 years 4 months 15 days ago. A number of changes have been made to the site since then, so please contact me if anything is broken or seems wrong.

In my family (yes, I’m digressing from tech-talk again), I notice a very disturbing trend. The elder members, meaning those over the age of 55 or 60, tend to have incredible stories to tell that only come out when there is company around. When it’s just us, the spontaneity is just not there to generate the proper atmosphere for storytelling.

That isn’t inherently a bad thing. If we were to tell stories to each other left and right, our supply of anecdotes would begin to run low pretty quickly. But think about the implications of having company around while you’re delivering a narrative version of some incredible or unlikely part of your life.

First off, you probably won’t be in any position to record the story. At our house, at least, company usually comes as a package with dinner (when we have company over), which means everyone is busy beforehand preparing food, setting the table, and generally primping the house to look good. (One recent day of company, March 21, had me snowblowing the driveway while it was still snowing. Just an example of what we do for our guests, some of which I find equally illogical. But I’ll save that for another post.)

In the midst of all this preparation, how likely is it that someone will have an audio recorder handy, to capture the stories that may, after all, be told only this once? In my experience, the probability has been zero. It’s the same as having a camera available at all times, really. In a family of people whose experiences cover the world, recording the stories, somehow, some way, would seem to be a necessity.

Actually, audio recordings aren’t necessarily the best way to keep stories. I mean, think about it. How searchable are audio files? Sure, you can name them and give them title attributes; but the full text is unavailable. And what of deaf people?

The best way to record these incredible anecdotes would be to have their tellers type them out, or speak them into a microphone. A problem arises from this approach, as well: Those whose stories we are interested in — whose lives contain innumerable instances of incredible happenings — find any attempts to record their history a waste of time. They simply have too many other things clamoring for attention. Why do taxes when you could be recording your life’s history? Taxes only matter while the government still knows you’re alive; your stories could inspire countless individuals decades into the future!

My point is not that taxes aren’t important — you can go to jail for not paying them, after all — but that people whose life experiences deviate from the norm in even the slightest way have important stories to tell and preserve.

One way I could do something about this trend toward narrative oblivion would be to acquire a digital voice recorder and carry it with me everywhere, much as I do my camera. Should a story start up, I’d simply whip out the little device and begin recording. I would simply spend part of my free time each week transcribing stories from the recordings (editing out repeated words, pauses, etc.).

While the practice would soon require the expansion of my data storage capacity, I am already in need of such action due to the large number of photographs I take. It’s no skin off my nose to use a few more megabytes a week from the 500 GB drive I am planning to buy. (It might even be 1 TB, actually — I haven’t fully decided; prices are hard to find for such large-capacity storage devices. Whatever I buy will definitely be RAID 1, though, for hardware redundancy.)

As I said, the ideal solution would be for the stories’ protagonists to simply write them down, in one way or another. Failing that, I must take the audio-based route and transcribe the stories myself, because every time I suggest writing down their stories, the family members to whom I speak about it say it’s not worth the time.

Like hell it’s not.

People (often these same people) say blogging is a waste of time, too. I know otherwise. Some of the posts I have made to this site see dozens of visits a week, accounting for more traffic than my homepage. Posts like the one I wrote about Google Browser Sync’s incredibly bad performance, my posted instructions to fix the problem with Tab Mix Plus and the new Gmail, and (though I am not a Mac guy) my news summary of the Wi-Fi problems encountered in Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard). These posts have obviously made a difference in the world of computer users. However small, it is still significant. That is why I insist on trying to preserve the incredible stories of my elder family members.

I don’t expect instant turnaround, but hopefully some of the people I am referring to, indirectly, in this post will see why I want to record their experiences. Perhaps I am a digital pack rat, but even pack rats have good reasons for keeping all their odds and ends. Just as I have good reasons for wanting to keep the stories alive.


I am an avid technology and software user, in addition to being reasonably well-versed in CSS, JavaScript, HTML, PHP, Python, and (though it still scares me) Perl. Aside from my technological tendencies, I am also a theatre technician, sound designer, violinist, singer, and actor.

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