For no other reason than because it serves as a useful introduction to this piece, the concept of “flashbulb memories” was brought up during a conversation with my co-workers. Flashbulb memories are those recollections that are created during a significant event, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Most people who were around for those events can usually answer, and in great detail, the question that starts “Where were you when you heard that…”
Back in the recesses of my mind, during this co-worker conversation, I recalled a study that spoke of “phantom flashbulbs”, or false recollections of flashbulb memories.
Courtesy of Google, I did not have to rely on my memory for the study as a couple of keyboard strokes and mouse clicks brought me to the work in question, Affect and Accuracy in Recall: Studies of “flashbulb” memories, edited by Eugene Winograd and Ulric Neisser. Chapter 2 of this work deals with phantom flashbulbs concerning the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which took place twenty-four years ago today.
So let me ask my follow-up question, “Where were you when you heard that the Challenger had exploded?”
If you read Chapter 2, your answer is probably wrong.
For me, I do know where I was. How can I say this with such certainty where Winograd and Neisser would disagree? Because near those same boxes where I discovered my first attempts at ceditra (see yesterday’s post), I unearthed a box of my daily journals that I wrote when I was in high school, college, and beyond.
What follows are excerpts from my journal entry of January 28, 1986:
Well, a national news event takes precedence over my normal life and what happened. At 8:40am, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 95 seconds into its launch. The external tank blew up and Challenger was disentagrated [sic] leaving no survivors. This was the flight that was supposed to have the first two citizens into space (the teacher and the engineer). I heard it first during our Civics final when Alex, listening to his Walkman, said, “The Shuttle blew up.” At first, we didn’t believe him, but then I listened to his radio, turned on the news, and they were broadcasting a report saying they were traveling 3x the speed of sound when it blew up and I was just shocked (that’s an understatement, but I don’t know how else to put it). When I got home, all 3 networks were on the air with special reports and when I saw the whole tape (regular speed) go on and then you see the small explosion and then the big fireball – you just can’t handle seeing that – seeing 7 lives snuffed out in an instant….19 years and 1 day ago was the Apollo 1 fire that killed 3 astronauts. Kinda weird. I hope this tragedy doesn’t set back NASA and the entire space program. Another photo that left me speechless was the picture of debris falling and splashing into the ocean…”
Back to 2010 and I still have no idea why our Civics teacher allowed Alex to have a radio on during a final.
My rememberance this day to the crew of STS-51-L: Micheal Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik.