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Lineage: An Excerpt


by Robert Root



The photo app on my cellphone has well over two thousand photographs and videos stored on it; the iPhoto app on my laptop has all of them and everything from the cellphone before this one, images going back nearly a dozen years. Note the language I’m using here: I don’t believe I’ve ever written the word “app” before and have seldom spoken it, and my using the words “cellphone” and “laptop” together with “app” speak to the technological age in which I write this (on my laptop computer, which has actually never been on my lap). All of those images are also preserved in the “iCloud,” wherever that is, and possibly on a back-up hard drive I sometimes remember to connect to my computer. My son, who is more hip to technology than I could ever be, tells me that in the near future further changes will come to the systems I’m familiar with—CDs, I’ve learned, are on the way out, though like vinyl recordings now reappearing, may one day be revived by nostalgic troglodytes of former generations—and I recall the transformations information-storage has undergone since I first encountered computers: floppy disks replaced by hard discs and then flash drives, and videotapes supplanted by DVDs. I think how proud my brother and his wife were to have “uploaded” all their family photos and videotapes to computer disks some years ago and how dismayed my wife has been to realize her new computer lacks certain ports and relies only on wireless connections. I think of the slides in the box in my garage that I never view for lack of a slide projector—my brother uploaded his long ago. I think of my collection of 45s, EPs, and LPs moldering in storage. I think of boxes with my mother’s scrapbooks and photo albums, my father’s memorabilia.


I seem to have a penchant for preservation, for collection and storage, but only now, in the era in which I am too aware of my age and of the complications of access to what I’ve collected and stored, am I wondering whether preservation is really possible. More urgently, I wonder what I might learn from what I’ve preserved before I run out of time to learn it. The swift passage of time, which seems ever swifter to me these days, keeps nudging me to look into the past, to consider what’s irretrievable and what of the previously unknown might be deciphered somehow. I ponder old photographs, read old notes and letters, gaze into the faces of my ancestors, and try to interpret—to read—what I consider to be their literary remains. I want to make a stab at preserving who they were, even if all I’m preserving is best guesses at who they were. I also wonder if reading their words and pondering their images—investigating such evidence of my lineage as I can find—will tell me something about who I am.

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