Friday, May 23, 2008

What the mad scientist did next

I have had a fun week talking about the book in various radio studios. Several interviewers have asked me about my apparently superhuman efforts to record, on video, every word and action that Athena made. This is an issue on which I have been pleased to set the record straight. I drew on about twenty hours of video recordings in telling Athena's story, which is probably about average for a modern, digitally scrutinised family. There was a period of about a year, when we were between camcorders, when I hardly took any video at all. The notetaking might have been unusual, but the use of a camera wasn't. 

It raises an interesting question, though, which came up at the Newcastle launch of the book. Even supposing that the attention I have given her has not screwed her up, is there any sense in which having this detailed record of her early life will distort her later memory? Will she find that her own recollections will be too heavily skewed towards those that I chose to set down, for example; will she be less likely to trust memories that aren't in the book? I think this is a difficult question, but surely one that all parents who own a video camera will have to address. Modern childhoods are being recorded from all angles, mediated by digital technology and endlessly replayed. When I started doing developmental research in the early 1990s, we had to go to some lengths to ensure that the kids we were working with were comfortable with the idea of being videoed. Nowadays, the camcorder is so much part of the family that toddlers, on the whole, do not bat an eyelid at the appearance of the little silver box. 

When I was small, the cine camera came out on high days and holy days, and there would be some grainy footage of me in my cowboy outfit, galloping down the street on my hobby horse. Even rarer were the occasions when we would gather as a family, dim the lights and watch these little cinematic marvels. Perhaps that left space for memories which, in the constant glare of a camcorder, would not have survived. I don't know. My parents divorced when I was six; I have almost blanket amnesia for that period of my life. Perhaps the presence of a Canon or JVC would have given me a firmer root in it. 

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