the internet | March 06, 2012

Alexandra Samuel: Our Online Lives and Memories Need Preserving, Too

If most of our memories involve physical locations and activities (such as walking through a city), then how will we remember the online experiences that increasingly occupy most of our time? This is the question Alexandra Samuel asks in a new blog post, “Towards a Geography of Digital Memory.” Spurred by a visit to her own hometown, Toronto, the Social Signal co-founder notes that "as our world and culture move online, it will be the digital experiences that take the foreground, and the geographic locations that fade to the back." As Samuel explains, we currently undervalue the nostalgic power of the web:

Our digital spaces might themselves hold the same evocative power as the geographic spaces to which we now attach, but unlike physical locations, we are much less likely to revisit them. Have you used the Internet Archive to visit your old Geocities page and enjoy a whiff of nostalgia? Looked for a screen capture of the AOL login screen? Listened to a recording of the sound your 2400-baud modem made as it established its tentative connection to the net?

Memories from our digital lives often do not hold permanent places on the ever-shifting web. URL's disappear, for example, while a park bench where you once shared a kiss might still be around. However, if Facebook's Timeline, which gives you “a way to wander down your digital memory lane,” is any indication, we are beginning to collectively realize the emotional attachment we have to our digital past. Our online experiences matter, Samuel argues, even if there is no physical reminder to jog our memory. Once we realize that our digital lives and 'real world' lives are one and the same, we may come to realize that the outdated parts of the digital world should be preserved. "The emotional memories that have the power to shock us into recognizing the passage of time — to recognize how brief and precious today really is, are not the memories that we carefully curate. They are the memories we stumble across."

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