Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day #8003 - Institutional Memory

Wikipedia defines the term "institutional memory" as "a collective set of facts, concepts, experiences, and know-how held by a group of people. As it transcends the individual, it requires the ongoing transmission of these memories between members of this group." The definition goes on to say that elements of institutional memory are often found in corporations, professional groups, goverments, religions, academic projects, and in some cases entire cultures. The idea of memories and anniversaries has been on my mind today since today is an anniversary of an event. I'm not going to discuss the event here, only how I remember it.

Though this memory goes back several years, I remember exactly where I was. Heck, I even remember the exact outfit I was wearing. I remember most of the people I was with, too. But I have hardly any recollection of what was said. I was surrounded by people and I know we were talking, but I can't remember what. And while I have this very clear picture in my head of that day and those events, I'm drawn back to this idea of institutional memory - how do the other people from that day remember it? It was a collective experience, we were all there, but we all felt something different and each responded differently.

Back when I was student teaching, I had a similar conversation with my students. For some reason or another, bringing up the events of 9/11 tied into our discussion of the day. I asked my room full of 15 and 16 year olds where they were on September 11, 2001 - what were you doing? Where were you? How did you respond? Did you know what was going on? And then I told them my answers - that I had been in my 3rd week of 8th grade at Mead Jr High School and was on my way to 3rd period band when me and my classmates were ushered inside a classroom where we sat for hours with our eyes glued to a television screen as we watched the Twin Towers fall. Another day in my past where I remember exactly where I was and exactly what I was wearing, but on that day I still remember what was said and how I felt because my Language Arts teacher insisted that we write about it because on that day, the course of American history changed.

Anyway, I guess the long and the short of it is that it's interesting to me the things that our minds choose to remember and in particular how anniversaries and discussions have a way of bringing them back up to the surface. May our memories serve us well.

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