Editorial Notebook

Details define memories

They say “good things come in small packages.” I’d have to agree. And this has nothing to do with the fact that there are a significant number of collapsible objects in today’s market nor with the fact that I’m not exactly a large person. It has everything to do with the fact that it’s the little things that make all the difference.

Here’s a more “practical” take on my viewpoint. At RPI, we’re almost all involved in some form of science or engineering. Everything we do is incredibly detailed. They say “the devil’s in the details,” and it’s true. You miss a negative sign and everything goes wrong. You use “=” instead of “==,” and your code just doesn’t work (or it does something you don’t it expect it to do). Okay, so maybe these examples show the negative side of details. But, sometimes, these details lead to fantastic discoveries. Using the “wrong” amounts of certain chemicals in reactions can actually lead to the discovery of new compounds that could shape life as we know (granted, it could also lead to horrible, horrible situations full of pain and sorrow, but let’s overlook that for now).

In a more vague and abstract sense, what I’m trying to say is that it’s the little things that paint a larger picture. A twinkle in her eye. A smile on his face. A spoon. A bowl. A low murmur of voices. From these details alone, you can paint an image in your head (assuming you have some sort of imagination). You can see a couple at a table—probably eating dinner. They’re enjoying their food (probably some kind of soup dish) and each other’s company. Other patrons at the restaurant are in their own little worlds, having their own discussions about whatever suits their fancy.

In the same way that you can create a world just from the details, you can create memories. And, oftentimes, it’s the details that you truly remember. Think about a random person you meet in your class. Or on campus. Or on the street. Or really just anywhere ever. What do you remember about them? Do you remember the person as a whole? Probably not. That’s not how our brains usually work. You do, though, probably remember the way that person carried himself. Or the way she talked. Or the way he laughed. Or the way she looked at you just because you were playing a game of Pokémon on an emulator on your laptop.

The same probably holds true for your fondest (or most hated) memories. You probably remember certain parts of it. Maybe it’s that stupid thing your little brother did in front of your entire extended family. Maybe it’s the expressions on the faces of your friends and family when you had to be rushed to the hospital because you suffered a golf-related head injury. Or maybe it was that smile. The one that brightened your day.

In the same way that the little things form the majority of your memories, the things you do may form the memories of those you care about (or even those that you just happen to pass by one day). And if you do the right thing, who knows, maybe you can give someone a memory they can look back on for years to come. And smile.