Famed neurologist and author Dr. Oliver Sacks passed away this week. Through his ground-breaking work and numerous books, this remarkable man touched the lives of countless individuals and their families. The Academy Award-nominated movie, “Awakening,” was based on his book of the same name. In it he describes his pioneering work with neurologically damaged patients.
One of his books, “Uncle Tungsten,” resonated with me so much, that I sent the doctor a note telling him of the pleasure I received from reading it. To my delight he was kind enough to write back. But that’s not what I want to talk about. His letter is just a catalyst.
We are active participants in a great armed robbery and sadly we are robbing ourselves and our progeny. The weapon we skillfully brandish to commit the crime is social media. Through Twitter feeds or whatever media chosen, we are forfeiting, for convenience, any lasting record of our intimate thoughts and feelings.
“Likes,” “Tweets,” or “Shares” don’t add a speck to the account of our collective experiences. As quickly as they are posted and, (maybe) read, they are forgotten and lost. Imagine if I Tweeted Dr. Sacks – ‘loved the book u r the best,’ and he responded in kind, ‘thx.’ What would have been gained? Historians rely upon the tangible, particularly ephemera like Dr. Sacks’ letter. His letter is a physical, concrete record of his thoughts. In it we learn that he, and chemist Roald Hoffmann, wrote all their work, including books, in long hand – with a fountain pen. An inconsequential detail to some, but invaluable information to a biographer, historian or screenwriter.
Society is losing too much of its soul through laziness and ignorance. We need to appreciate and participate in more lasting ways of sharing our thoughts and experiences. Write a letter, jot a note, send a postcard, you’ll be happy you did and so will the recipient of your thoughtful gesture – I promise.