YouTube’s Memory Miracle

The key reason why you’ll find me “from time to time” expressing criticism of various YouTube policies, is simply because I love the platform so very much. If it vanished tomorrow, there’d be a gap in my life that would be very difficult to repair.

So let’s put aside for the moment issues of hate speech and dangerous dares and YouTube’s Content ID, and revel for a bit in an example of YouTube’s Memory Miracle.

A few minutes ago, a seemingly unrelated Google query pulled up an odd search result that I suddenly recognized, a YouTube video labeled “By Rocket to the Moon.” YES, the name of a children’s record I played nearly into groove death in my youth. It’s in my old collection of vinyl here for sure somewhere, but I haven’t actually seen or heard it in several decades at least:

By Rocket to the Moon

Little bits and pieces of the dialogue and songs I’ve recalled over the years, in particular a line I’ve quoted not infrequently: “Captain, captain, stop the rocket. I left my wallet in another suit, it isn’t in my pocket!” As it turns out, I learned today that I’ve been quoting it slightly wrong, I’ve been saying “in my other suit” — but hell, close enough for jazz!

And speaking of jazz, I also realized today (it would have meant nothing to me as a child) that the jazzy music on this record was composed by the brilliant Raymond Scott and performed by none other than the wonderful Raymond Scott Quintette. You likely don’t recognize the names. But if you ever watched classic Warner Brothers cartoons, you will almost certainly recognize one of the group’s most famous performances, of Scott’s “Powerhouse” (widely used in those cartoons for various chase and machine-related sequences):


I’m obviously not a neurobiologist, but I’ve long suspected that what we assume to be memory “loss” over time with age is actually not usually a loss of the memories themselves, but rather a gradual loss or corruption of the “indexes” to those memories. Once you get a foothold into old buried memories through a new signal, they’ll often flow back instantly and with incredible accuracy. They were there all along!

And that’s why I speak of YouTube’s memory miracle. Old songs, old TV shows, even old classic commercials. You thought you forgot them eons ago, but play them again on YouTube even after gaps of decades, and full access to those memories is almost instantly restored.

In the case of this old record, I had just played a few seconds from YouTube today when the entire production came flowing back — dialogue, song lyrics, all of it. I was able to sing along as the words “popped in” for me a few seconds ahead of what I was hearing. (This leads to another speculation of mine relating to the serial nature of memories, but we’ll leave that discussion for a future post.)

YouTube had in a few seconds recreated — or at least uncovered and surfaced — the lost index that restored access to an entire cluster of detailed memories.

OK, so it’s not really a miracle. But it’s still wonderful.

Thanks YouTube!


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