The Contradictions Are There, But...
More Hippy Crap from the World of American Buddhism

Another Lesson in Impermanence


To me, photo albums always existed. When I was little, my family had tons of photo albums. They were covered in brightly colored plastic or vinyl, with sticky cardboard pages to which my aunts and uncles affixedscalloped-edged black-and-white photos of my mother, tall and thin in her polyester pantsuit, “blonde” beehive and pointy, horn-rimmed glasses.

I remember when Polaroid’s instant photography was new
technology, and the pictures the old folks imprisoned in the albums gradually shifted to color ones. Some of the pictures of me, taken during the first few years of my life, were in color, but most weren’t. By my fifth birthday, color had pretty much taken over.

I still have them, boxes full of old photo albums, their pages filled with old photos of my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and other various people.

I wonder if this is what it’s like for those born today, like my grandson, whose name, picture and vital stats were on Facebook within minutes of his birth. He may never own a photo album, but for him, Facebook will have always been there. It may be obsolete by his tenth birthday, or it
may be completely different by then, but this (or something like it) will always be how he remembers the earliest years of his life. Maybe as technology progresses, he’ll need an older computer to continue to access these old pictures, like the yellowed pages of my photo album, with which I’m reverting to obsolete technology to view old photos.

The day of the photo album has come and gone, just like whatever preceded them. When my grandchildren are my age, what will they look back at in the same way? How will they look upon the ‘tech’ of prior generations?

And how will that passage, that impermanence, affect them? The Buddha taught that all things are impermanent and devoid of any permanent, independent self. Facebook and its successors will fall away, just as the photo album has. The mistake isn't in using any of these media; the mistake is in deluding ourselves into believing that they'll be here forever.


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