Some time ago, during a boring rainy day, I was surfing on the internet and stumbled upon a promotion add from Intel called Museum of Me. Clearly only intended to promote their new product, Intel’s Museum of Me opts for a creative way to advertise with their promise to produce a ‘visual archive of your social life’. Just connect with Facebook and the app puts the photo’s you’ve uploaded in nice frames, makes an artwork out of profile pictures of your friends and creates a mural of the words you use on your facebookwall. And there it was, all my memories neatly archived, the traces of my life (or more correctly: the part of my life in which I’ve been on Facebook) well documented in a movie of a couple of minutes. But when I looked to my own online museum, it all seemed a bit flat, shallow and even a little meaningless. What supposed to be a museum of my own memories, ended up being an emotionless, cold, impersonal movie.
Maybe the negative experience with my personal museum, has something to do with the way we nowadays treat our memories. In contemporary culture, we depend increasingly on technologies like the Intel- app, to help us memorise. We buy enormous memory cards for our camera before we go on vacation, let an Iphone app Replay My Day automatically write our diary, filling it with the places where we went, who we called and what we twittered, and process our facebook updates to a thick diary.These days, memory is something that is externalised, instead of an internal personal process. American scholar Richard Terdiman therefore states that we went from a culture of remembrance to a culture of preservation. And thus memories are more and more reduced to information. We just gather as much data about our lives that we can in order to not forget, but that does not mean we produce memories.
All we try to do is to desperately hold on to our experiences. And that is not only nostalgic, but also completely impossible. Nobel laureate and founder of behavioural economics Daniel Kahneman states in his TEDtalk on the difference in happiness between the experiencing self and the remembering self, that an experience lasts for about three seconds, which amounts to 600,000 experiences per month, and 600 million in life. Most of them don’t make an impact. So what does it really matter that you can remember through the Iphone App that two months ago you were in that street in that city if nothing memorable happened? And yet somehow you get the feeling that all your experiences should count. The famous quote from John Lennon ‘life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans’ runs overtime apparently.
Instead of desperately holding on to experiences, it’s more useful to experience our memory. We must treat memory as something living. Memory isn’t supposed to be an static neatly organised archive, it’s supposed to be flexible and in flux like the watches in Dali’s most famous painting ‘The Persistence of Memory’.We must draw the paintings in the Museum of Me ourselves, not let ready-made data overflow our personal archives. Let’s accept that we cannot remember everything and trust that the things we do remember are memorable enough to not forget, without the need for archiving it through all kinds of external memory devices.
Richard Terdiman (1993) Present Past: Modernity and the Memory Crisis
Biography of Daniel Kahnman on TED
This blogpost is also published on TedxAmsterdam