Like many, I am deeply anxious about my memories. I’m paranoid about not being able to remember my life, about having forgotten all the moments that make me who I am — the happy triumphs, the unfortunate pitfalls, the people who made a difference. For this reason, my hard drives carry gigabytes of photos and videos, a digital memory box filled to the brim to provide comfort in my old age.
As our lives are transplanted into social media, so are our methods of memory making. It is where we share exciting experiences, meet new people and then document these moments, so that each year Facebook can tell us what happened on that day, or Google Photos can allow us to ‘rediscover’ it. We do this for our present, for the comfort of social connectedness, but also for our future selves.
“They [Facebook] can see a commercial benefit in constructing this digital memory of ourselves, beyond a sentimental type of approach,” says Dr. Jonathon Hutchinson, a lecturer in online communications. He suggests that while users are updating for the present, Facebook is looking to our future.
Each reminder of ‘You and Alison have been friends for 5 years’, is Facebook creating a new digitisation of remembering relationships. Facebook’s ongoing plans for their mechanic prompts are yet unknown and it is still unclear what the effects of using social media as a memory tool could be.
“Cognitively speaking, we may not have reduced as humans, but our reliance to Google it or search on Facebook has had an impact on how we recall information,” Hutchinson says.
“Our life and history will be online so we don’t really have to pay attention to a lot of the detail. But technology is not to blame for our poor memories. It’s on us.”
While this process reduces the amount of information we remember naturally, student Harriet Goers believes that through social media we now have access to memories that otherwise would have been lost. “Facebook acts as a giant repository of memories where you get a lot more detail than what you would be able to recall naturally,” she says.
“You’re able to find the specific date, everyone who was involved and you have visual references you can go back to. More information is generally better.”
Despite this, Goers is still concerned about complacency, with people using online memories as a clutch tool. “If people are using it as a substitute for natural memory and becoming careless with their own memory recording, it would definitely have a negative impact on how we remember things,” she says.
A growing sentiment amongst Facebook users is that the service has shifted from its original intention as an instant communication platform. Goers agrees that Facebook has been taken over by Snapchat and Twitter for instant socialisation.
“Perhaps Facebook in acting as this repository of memories is them realising they’ve lost their ground there and that they need to capitalise on that. I certainly don’t go on it to find out what’s happening right now, I go on it to celebrate what’s happened before or upload a photo I can refer back to later,” she says.
“There are enough people out there who care about immortalising these memories that they have made it a new norm for us to deposit memories there,” says Goers.
Preserving our memories so publicly might make them more detailed, but I’m yet to see improvement in my own recollection. Since I’m addicted to technology, I’m hoping these digital memories are a good thing.