Digital vs. Actual Memories


I went to see some concerts up in Dallas a couple weekends ago, and was struck by how many people were taking pictures with their mobile phones and calling people and holding their phones up for them to hear. What surprised me wasn’t that people were doing it, but rather that they were doing it constantly, and in such great numbers (in my own bad cameraphone shot to the right, you can sort of make out the glow from some phone screens. And that’s Coldplay on stage, if you were wondering).

That got me to thinking — at what point do we quit having actual memories and start relying just on our digital ones? Plenty of people seemed more involved in taking photos all the time, or trying to record songs on their phones, then actually watching and listening to the show. It’s as if being able to document they were at the concert — via photos, music, messages or phone calls — was more important than actually being there. Is that the flip side of having so many media recording devices with us all the time? Recording something “for posterity” takes precedence over the experience?

The excellent 43 Folders had a post a while ago on creative cameraphone uses, and they’re all about using it as a “a ubiquitous capture device” to document all kinds of things. It’s sort of the same concept, replacing our own memories with digitally stored ones, although the motivation is a little different. The memory of where you parked the car is something more functional than emotional, and using a picture to supplant your memory of it is pretty reasonable.

But trying to replace those more emotional memories seems a little odd to me. Perhaps it’s just a reflection of how technology has changed our perspective — maybe people don’t make a distinction between their own memories and their recorded ones any more.

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