My last perfect moment was on May 4th 2011 at 10:15AM. That’s an awfully specific date and time, but I have a reason for remembering it. Firstly, I was travelling. That particular morning, I was in Potsdam, a city on the border of Berlin. More specifically, I was in a second floor bedroom of an apartment building. The apartment itself was shared between four different people who were all studying abroad, and I had fallen in love with one of them.
The girl had a habit of sleeping in, but I had been awake for a while. I didn’t look at her with romantic longing: I find that sort of thing creepy, plus if she catches you, things can get all weird. I also didn’t look at the window side of the bed because the light was too bright and the people there hadn’t bought any curtains. Instead, I looked at the ceiling. I was just thinking. There wasn’t anything special about what I was thinking: I was thinking of an essay I had to finish, that I shouldn’t be too late getting my train ticket back home, that my cat’s birthday was in a few days which wasn’t important because we didn’t celebrate it, stuff like that. And then my brain stumbled upon a thought I had never had before: I don’t want to be anywhere else right now.
It wasn’t even a great romantic thought. It was more of a matter-of-fact feeling, the way your stomach might signal to you that it’s full. Then the alarm went off. 10:15.
Falling in love for the first time is like discovering your favourite movie. You’ll revisit that feeling perhaps several times over, and it still carries with it much of what you felt before. It’s just that the first time around, you didn’t know things could be that good.
But being in love isn’t the only thing that defines a perfect moment. Another memory involves me sitting quietly on a chair with a cat on my lap. I’m eight years old and the cat generally refuses physical contact, so I decide to keep perfectly still. For forty minutes. No smartphone, no laptop, not even a book. I stared at the wall for forty minutes, every now and then daring to pet the cat. It was my first accidental meditation session.
Another perfect moment at age eleven: I’m taking a shower in the evening and then I head downstairs to drink freshly squeezed orange juice, after which I watch an episode of Star Trek with my dad. Spock is on TV, talking about logic and emotion and being human. I watched Star Trek every week: I have no idea why this instance was different. But somehow, it was.
But there’s one thing that separates that morning in Potsdam from the other perfect moments in my life. Nowadays, both my computer and my social media are always trying to remind me of things that I did before: “On This Day”, the headline says, along with a few photos of a randomly selected year.
When I was younger, we had a television channel called The Box. Basically, you called a number and through an awkward phone menu system you’d select a music video. The Box would then play that video on television (at least, that was the theory - the few times I tried it, it didn’t work). The catch: their catalogue mostly consisted of videos that were released that year. They probably didn’t have the storage space for anything else.
It’s different now, of course: on the internet, you can find pretty much any music video (and film, and song) you want. The same is true for old news articles, books and, yes, photos. The internet has caused this weird new frame of reference where old and new are nothing more than an upload date below a video. It all becomes something else - I like to call it Internet Time.
When it comes to our own memories, for people of my generation, there’s a part of our lives that is lost to the pre-digital age, and it’s kind of nice, because the only way that those moments live on is through our memories. They’re not as exact, but perhaps a little sweeter because of it. And no computer platform is trying to remind you of it with an algorithm. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but from the moment that it did, time seemed to be speeding up for me.
Then again, we should remind ourselves not to focus too much on happiness. Too much of our current culture is trying to create the idea that happiness is a state of mind rather than something we experience, as if one could permanently capture a feeling (I’d love for my Instagram feed to replace all ‘Happiness’ quotes with ‘Horniness’ and see people’s reactions).
I occasionally wonder if all those “Keep Calm And” posters and online quotes about being happy coincide with the rise of Internet Time. We’re all becoming a bit like Spock, with increasingly perfect recall and the ability to conjure up anything at any moment. We just don’t have his emotional control, so it’s going to take a while to adjust.
On May 4th, 2017, I woke up. It wasn’t a bad morning, just kind of okay. The weather was okay. My coffee was okay. Work was okay. I woke up alone but had no strong feelings about that one way or the other. It was just one of life’s many in-between days. My phone sent me a notification: “On This Day” flashed on the screen.
When the photo popped up, it was the first time a perfect moment had made me feel a little sad. I found myself missing her, which was strange: I hadn’t thought about her in a while. But it wasn’t just her. It was the room. It was Potsdam. It was being a student with less worries. It was being in a world where my dad was still alive and everything felt safe. It was the thought of not wanting to be anywhere else, and being in love for the first time.
That’s a lot to throw at me on a Thursday morning, is all I’m saying. Computers haven’t gotten us quite figured out yet.
Oh, you might be wondering what I took a photo of. That day, after the girl had left the bed to take a shower, I tried falling asleep again to no avail. I caught up on some news on my phone, and as I was holding the phone up to read, I accidentally clicked the camera button.
It’s a photo of that ceiling. The empty ceiling. For whatever reason, I kept it. Maybe there was a part of me that knew.
On February 27 2015, Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Spock, died. His last words to the public are perfectly preserved on the internet too. Five days before his death, he wrote on Twitter:
“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”