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Who Are Our Memories For?

A lot of people take a lot of photos. A lot of people cannot experience without pointing a camera or video camera at an event, scene, or circumstance to capture it for later use. Whether to look at alone and laugh or to share online for others to laugh, these things that we want to remember have evolved from being “my memory” to being a collective experience of me: we’re thinking out loud, all the time.

I was thinking about this while reading Walter Kirn’s reflection on memory and technology. He points out how scrolling through one’s phone or footage of an experience is how we remember things, the experience itself becoming secondary to the ephemera that it produced. What was most alarming to me is realizing that, outside of the experiences that I do not record, the ones that I do capture are shared not to strengthen a memory but to give away a memory.

The main function of the camera on my phone is to take images of shit that I want to share on Instagram or keep for myself, to remember. I don’t take photos of my boyfriend or my home or my car or my friends but I occasionally take photos of my dog(s). Everything else, I rely on my mind for. That sounds noble but it isn’t: the things I am photographing are the things I want to remember, the things so fleeting and “funny” that I need to share with someone else. I need to deposit my memories to others.

Does that make these memories my own? Not really. This is true because I often recall other people’s memories from photos they have posted online. Many times I have been at a dinner or with friends and, instead of chatting about what we’ve been up to, they or I have begun speaking only for nods to taper of the conversation, acknowledging the memory from seeing it online.

Those memories aren’t ours. As altruistic and sharable this sounds, it’s kind of scary that my memories are not my own nor do I remember things for myself. I’ve taken a step back from myself, letting memories rise and fall for others—not me. I’m sure this is a personal problem but Kirn’s story feels like a lukewarm echo of the phenomena I am experiencing. It sounds so dumb to articulate this but you really do need to put down your phone and take a step back and experience.

While out of town this weekend on a quick trip, the scene around a pool was dominated by photos being taken of the self. A man was even in the fucking pool with a plastic wrapped phone, documenting his entire experience instead of swimming: who was that for? Who is any of this for? Do you take a photo of yourself for personal reference or to show people you are doing something, that you are experiencing something they are not, that you want them remember instead of living something yourself?

I’m not one to endorse a digital fast but it feels particularly compelling now. Why not be more present than you are right now? That’s what I’m reaching for: the ability to experience an experience without any filter.

Photo via.

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