Google digs up photos you took with your phone, say, five years ago, so you can look back at your memories. Facebook does this too. They brighten my day. They bother me too.
Are our devices and cloud storage becoming the more reliable curator of our past? Sunset captured during a commute. A brunch date with my sister. A walk on the seawall with friends. It’s hard to pinpoint what feels off. They’re photos I took after all and humans have always tried to hold on to things for remembrance. Keepsakes, journals, printed photos. Yet there is something just a smidge unsettling about an alert from an electronic device reminding you of the past.
Maybe it’s the way it puts me face-to-face with my banality. Google passes off as memory that rare time I did my make-up like a proper grown-up lady (photo taken for reference, which of course, was promptly forgotten), or the time I tried on a dress at the mall which I have no intention of buying because budget, my solo home breakfast of fancied-up omelette. It offers up the mundane, even stressful incidents. A photo taken at Walmart to confirm I’m buying the right item. Shots from a dismal apartment I was considering moving into (found a better one, thankfully). Screenshots of a customer service complaint. You get the idea.
They come up at a moment when you’re not in a particularly reminiscent mood. Or perhaps, our devices are attuned to our high stress, future-oriented living (though our tendencies are tied to the past). In addition to your wake-up alarm and meeting notifications, it has taken on your need to reflect. An automated attempt at sentimentality. Flashbacks are no longer triggered by the world around us; years down the road we might just learn to expect it the way we dread the morning alarm whenever you’re ill-fated enough to wake up just a few minutes too early. Maybe it’s our fault that we don’t actively take the time to look back, take ownership of remembering. That is how while checking my phone for a missed call from my boss, I find myself reminded that I was basking in a beach resort three years ago. So not the time for this, but hey, this is nice.
Looking at my phone, I want to delete photos I have never intended to keep. And I’ll only capture things worth seeing again someday. Though my phone has extraordinary capacity for storage and recalling dates, I tell myself I still remember better and much more. The pleasant weight of my newborn niece, the clammy temperature of a city, the taste of a birthday tiramisu. Things like this, I will carry with me if I pay attention to the present, unplugged from my device.
Featured photo © 2023 Leah Ranada