There are no active ads.

Advertisement

Is The Internet Killing Our Memories?

by Emily Price | July 10, 2011July 10, 2011 12:01 pm PST

As you may (or may not) remember – I’m a bit of a pack rat. I hang on to all my old gadgets– and quite a bit of other stuff as well. I’m thinking about moving in the next few months, am trying to get rid of a bunch of things, and as a result have been plowing my way through some of my boxes o’ stuff/memories in an attempt to purge at least a small percentage of the junk I’ve accumulated throughout the years. When going through a few of the boxes recently it occurred to me that had I been born today, it’s likely I would have never accumulated most of the items I have stored away in the first place– I also wouldn’t be reliving those memories as I am now going through the physical boxes.

Our move to digital storage, while in theory is better for keeping track of things long-term, I think is also in a way destroying our memories of those things.While on the surface the digital version of something and the physical version are roughly the same thing – I think years down the road the way we revisit those things will be dramatically different.

Books
I’ve always been a huge reader. Kind of the way some people are about movies, if I liked a book back in the day I would buy it. After a couple of moves I have a few bookshelves full of books in my house (3 actually) but the rest of my library is stored away in boxes shoved in the back of closets. While most of those boxes have been stored away for literally years, going through them immediately makes me remember those titles and have a new-found happiness that I own them/can read them right now. Take my massive book collection, and then add to it all the textbooks I accumulated in college and am “keeping for reference” and you’ve got quite the collection on your hands. If I was born today, chances are when it came time for reading I’d end up with an e-reader of some kind, and would have never owned physical copies of these books in the first place.

Sure, I could flip through the old e-reader and check out old titles – actually, a lot faster than I can pull a box out of my closet and look for a book. But, would I?

Notes
So when I was in middle school my friend Sara and I used to pass notes during class, lots of notes. Our note passing got to a point that we decided in 7th grade it would be a good idea to get a notebook and just pass that back in forth. Eventually we got a few friends in on the deal, and more than a decade later I have literally a box full of notebooks full of notes I wrote to my best friend when I was 13. Born today? I’d probably be texting my friends during class rather than writing notes, or better yet tweeting.

One of my other best friends Benton used to travel across the country to visit his father every summer. Benton and I hung out everyday when he was at home, so his cross-country travel was always a teenage-tragedy simply because we couldn’t communicate nearly as much. In one box I found a letter he wrote me that was 9 pages long. So what does someone say in 9 pages? The first paragraph of the letter mentions a $162.99 phone bill from calling me the month before, and a new vow to write more letters instead. The rest says what you might say to your best friend now in text messages, Facebook posts, and emails over the course of the week: he went to an awesome concert, found a great new poster store…Does anyone write 9 page letters anymore? Email is so immediate, had the same interaction happened today I think we would have instead exchanged emails/texts everyday rather than send one long letter each week. Emails and texts I would have deleted most of and certainly wouldn’t be re-reading years later.

Music
So in addition to sending epic letters, Benton and I had a ritual of mailing each other mix tapes every week with some of our favorite songs of the moment. I have four summer’s worth of tapes stored away that I’ll never get rid of (despite the fact I don’t have a way to play them now). I also have boxes upon boxes of CDs and jewel cases. Music is undoubtably going digital, both in MP3 form and just simply streaming. Same situation today? I would probably tell a friend to check out X band. Offer a link to a YouTube video or a band’s website. Mix tape? I don’t think I’ve made one of those (in any form) in close to a decade.

Pictures
I have loads of pictures – loads. Every box in my house somehow has ended up with a least a few snapshots in them, in most cases folders full of prints or photo albums. Today’s pictures are all digital. I recently printed photos for a photo show I was doing in the area, but really beside that – I haven’t printed pictures just for the sake of having them since the day I got a digital camera (2002?). All of our pictures are stored on websites, hard drives, and cloud services now – physical prints for the sake of physical prints are certainly a thing of the past.

Where are you going with all this?
So, now that you know on a basic level where I’m coming from – where do you think we’re going when it comes to how we store our memories?

While I can take a trip down memory lane by opening my closet, the same won’t necessarily be able to be said for someone born today, or even a decade ago. As we start to move everything to computers, then physical memories of events and things are going to start to disappear. I could probably take a closet’s worth of notes, music, pictures, and books and store them on my MacBook Air. That said – 20 years from now would I ever look at them? Probably not.

The past few years of my life is pretty decently chronicled in tweets, Facebook posts, and emails. What happens when my friend who took pictures of our epic vacation deletes their Facebook account? I obviously never asked for my own copy of the pictures, they’re on Facebook right? So, do I just not have access to those pictures anymore? Twenty years from now am I going to even remember that vacation happened? Let’s say – long shot – that Facebook is still kicking in 2031 and I wanna show my kids pictures of my vacation. Am I gonna be able to pull those pictures up on a whim? Will I think to even look for them?

What do you think?
I’m admittedly a super-nostalgic person. I love taking walks down memory lane, and hang on to things for the emotional attachment more than because they’re actually worth something. How we store memories is certainly changing; however, and changing fast. It will be interesting to see how we store memories in the future, as well as how we look back at old adventures.

10 years from now are we going to randomly stumble upon pictures and letters from today? Will you randomly find a book you read in high school on your e-reader 10 years later and decide to give it another read? —I think not. While moving things to digital in many ways makes them eternal, I think it also is in a way killing them. I’m not going to look at old files on my computer, but I will always look at something old sitting in front of me.

What do you think? Are computer’s changing how we store memories? 10 years from now, how do you think you’ll look back on your memories from 2011? Photos on Facebook? Old emails from friends?


Emily Price

Emily has been obsessed with computers since the early 80s when she discovered she could play Ghostbusters on her father's Commodore 64. She...

Advertisement