The technology and social media we use every day constantly bombard us with things we’ve shared or advertised in the past based on who they think we are. Those past posts can be fun to relive, and every now and then those targeted ads actually work. But Wired senior writer (and former Verge staff member) Lauren Goode a powerful and personal story about how these technologies can also haunt us with memories of times we might want to forget.
In the essay, Goode describes how she called off her wedding in May 2019, and has since struggled with technology that reminds her of her past relationship and the wedding that didn’t take place. Here’s just one devastating passage:
Social media and photo apps became full-fledged services, infused with artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and an overwhelming amount of presumption. For months, photos of my ex appeared on the Google Home Hub next to my bed, the widgets on my iPad and the small screen of my Apple Watch. So yes: my ex’s face sometimes appears on my wrist. As I write this, Facebook is reminding me that nine years ago I visited him in Massachusetts and met his family’s dog.
Goode also writes about how difficult it is to escape these memories due to the near-impossibility of deleting your data from the internet:
I managed to do half the work. But that’s exactly it: it’s work. It is designed that way. It requires an ungrateful amount of mental and emotional energy, just like some relationships. And even if you find the time or energy to navigate settings and submenus and customer support forms, you still don’t have ultimate control over the experience. In Apple Photos, you can go to Memories, see the collage the app has put together for you, delete a collage, remove the tag from a person or group of people, or tell the app that you want to see fewer reminders of the same kind. The one thing you can’t do? Unsubscribe completely from the Reminders feature.
But she also shares how this technology and the data we keep can still give us meaning, even if it comes from a time that no longer matches what it once did:
It doesn’t matter that in the photo I’m wearing a white silk dress, there’s a ring on my finger and a blurry row of wedding dresses on racks behind us. I still will not delete it. I do not archive photos of the half marathon I ran with my ex, the only finish we passed as I ran 21.1 miles and I would rather remember what that felt like on days when I have nothing left in the tank . I won’t be removing the albums I have from half a dozen Christmas days because I have to believe there will be holiday gatherings again. I won’t unfollow our wedding photographer on Instagram because – even though she never took our photos – I appreciate her work as a keeper of other people’s memories.
Whatever I write here, I can’t do Goode’s incredible story justice. Just go and read it