Scratch ‘n’ sniff make-believe

Whilst reading Taylor earlier this week, I was transported back to an olfactory memory during the 90s – a truly revolting BBC Red Nose Day Scratch ‘n’ Sniff book, where every box smelled like the same nauseating and artificial death pit, despite being associated with different environments/things on the corresponding tv show (I think ‘soap’ was the only one that didn’t make me want to burn the book, even though this too could have had deathly consequences!)

For me, this is a pretty vivid memory. I even remember large, brightly coloured boxes with numbers inside flashing on the screen to signify scratching the numbered box in the book. This is definitely a thing that happened. I promise!

However, after a good 30 minutes of searching on Google and only one reference to the event in a forum post, I began to question my own memory. How could no one have taken a picture and uploaded it to Flickr?!

Catching up with Spalter & Van Dam (2008) and Merchant (2007) threw a new perspective on the situation. These articles highlighted how sceptical we are as a culture of visual artefacts – digital pictures can be enhanced and ‘photo-shopped’ to deliver the desired outcome, even if that were not the original image, and it is difficult to know if/when this augmentation has occurred without author reference to the development.

The other side of this opinion is that we have become equally distrusting of anything that has not been digitally captured. Unless someone takes a picture of a unicorn in their front room, it is unlikely anyone will believe them when they recount the event. Likewise, no one would have believed the lady put the cat in the bin if it hadn’t been caught on camera.

We apparently distrust the visual evidence we receive, whilst being incapable of believing anything without it.

On a smellier note, the inability to find a picture of the Red Nose Day S’n'S booklet left me questioning my own knowledge base – without evidence to support the case, the memory becomes as believable as the unicorn – a fragment of my imagination, shared by another 90s engage-er on a solitary forum. Without a picture, it could just be coincidence!

[N.B. this RND event was way before the mobile phone became commonplace, cameras were not instagram apps, and cassette tapes required intervention of pencils or tiny fingers to wind up pre-play!]

Yet these two views are of the same coin – we are now a society more empowered to question. We do not believe everything we hear – on the contrary, we are actively encouraged to question what we do. Information is everywhere, but it is saturation and skills required to source the media-untampered facts. Memories are susceptible to damage, decay, planting, gap filling, general misinterpretation upon recall and thus often of limited value (in some cases) without strong evidence bases of neutral form, e.g. video, pictures, dna traces!

More information makes us question more, even ourselves. I’m not saying I now retract my Scratch ‘n’ Sniff memory, but a few digital pieces of the puzzle would be helpful to try and piece back together the little faith I had!


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