The technology and social media we use every day constantly bombard us with things we’ve shared in the past or advertise to us based on who they think we are. Those past posts can be fun to relive, and every once in a while, those targeted ads do actually work. But Wired senior writer (and former Verge staffer) Lauren Goode published a powerful and personal story about how these technologies can also haunt us with memories of times we may want to forget.
In the essay, Goode describes how she called off her wedding in May 2019, and ever since, she has grappled with technology reminding her of her former relationship and the wedding that didn’t happen. Here is just one devastating passage:
Social media and photo apps were by now full-on 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 tiny screen of my Apple Watch. So yeah: My ex’s face sometimes shows up on my wrist. As I write this, Facebook reminds 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 reminders because of the near-impossibility of removing your data from the internet:
I managed to do half the work. But that’s exactly it: It’s work. It’s designed that way. It requires a thankless 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 won’t have ultimate control over the experience. In Apple Photos, you can go to Memories, go through the collage the app has assembled for you, delete a collage, untag a person or group of people, or tell the app you want to see fewer Memories like it. The one thing you can’t do? Opt out of the Memories feature entirely.
But she also shares how this technology and the data we keep can still give us meaning, even if it is from a time that may no longer represent what it once did:
Never mind that I’m wearing a white silk dress in the photo, that there’s a ring on my finger and a hazy row of bridal gowns on racks behind us. I still won’t delete it. I won’t archive photos from the half-marathon I ran with my ex, the one finish line we crossed, because I ran 13.1 miles and I’d prefer to remember how that felt on days when I have nothing left in the tank. I won’t delete the albums I have from half a dozen Christmases, because I need to believe holiday gatherings will happen again. I won’t unfollow our wedding photographer on Instagram, because—even though she never shot our photos—I appreciate her work as a keeper of other people’s memories.
No matter what I write here, I can’t do Goode’s incredible story justice. Just go read it.