“Nothing is innocent” (11). A text to your sister asking when she wants to meet for dinner, a filtered instagram post of your morning coffee, a tweet about a current event; nothing. The world is moving and changing quickly, sometimes it’s hard to remember history behind the objects we use. Thomas Edison called telephones objects that could bring “the human family in closer touch” (6). Is that intended use being put into action? If your iPhone vibrated in the middle of this sentence, would you glance away from this to check it? We give our attention to so many things in the present that we forget where our present moment derived from. Was there ever a moment when you looked at your cell phone and thought of the post card that used to share the most recent deaths of black men on a telephone pole?
The phone as an object, as Biss reminds us, enables us to overcome time and distance. The history of the phone also overcomes time. Very few of us remember the progress of the phone every time we look down at our lit up screen. Many of us didn’t hear of the telephone pole hangings until Biss’ essay. An important part of the essay is to understand the power of time and its ability to make gruesome histories disappear or change forms. My concern after reading this essay was our understanding of history. Could we be overlooking parts of history that deserve to be remembered?
We learn most of our history in the classroom with textbooks. However, I think a more valuable version of history is the history told with art and writing, its intimate. History through creativity gives us the ability to remember the past, rather then pass it along like a lost message in a children’s game of telephone, as Biss describes. Biss starts her essay with what seems will become a mundane chronological history of the phone, but twists it into a story of horrific hangings that are forgotten and no longer affiliated with the telephone. In the second half of the essay, Biss breaks up her paragraphs by places and by cases. The paragraphs are short and not descriptive, but they don’t need to be. They are harsh and effective in evoking an emotion. Biss only describes the postcard yet I imaged exactly what it would look like before I even google searched a picture. At least for the rest of the day, Biss created a story and created a history that affected me.
Art works in the same way. It has the ability to bring out emotions. Interpreting horrific events through art makes uncomfortable events more comfortable and more memorable. September 11, 2001 is a difficult date for America to forget, but this artist Jason Powell captures time’s ability to cover up history. New York City has a changed skyline that has changed into a new present. Overtime the city has been forced to become new things. It has to move on to function as a city. It has to move on because of time. Time changes the way we connect the past with our current moment.
The New York skyline and the image of the twin towers is a powerful image that most Americans recognize instantly, but his website http://jasonepowell.com/albums/looking-into-the-past/ is filled with similar images of less-known places affected by history and transformed into a new place, with a forgotten history to many.
History also does not have to be a life-changing event. We have our own histories that contribute to the bigger events. Biss shares a piece of her own family history involved with telephone poles, “My grandfather was a lineman. He broke his back when a telephone pole fell. ‘Smashed him onto the road,’ my father says” (11). The incorporation of a personal experience along with the harsh recounts of the events allows readers to approach the gap between them and history that time creates. Individual histories between the larger historical events may enable us to regain the missing pasts of our present. Is there a way to catch up on all the time we have missed? Can we remember the pasts and stories of all of those around us? It seems this is unreachable. I think the most meaningful way to act is to remember, and be conscious of how we became to be in the present. Remember that the old lady slowly crossing the street used to be as young as you. She has stories, she has the power to gap all the time that you’ve missed, all the time and distance that you’ve overcome from the intensity of the present.