Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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‘Constant short term nostalgia’

February 14th, 2013 by Seb Chan

Suse Cairns, writing about how carrying her iPhone around with her as a (then) later adopter PhD student changed her way of seeing (and experiencing) the world,

I now see socially. I listen, not just for myself, but for what I can translate and share to my networks. I pay attention to the ideas that you, my network, is interested in, and in so doing, I encounter the world through that lens. The things I notice are not of interest to me alone. I notice those things that I think you would be interested in too, and I think of you when I am noticing them.

This is probably a familiar experience for many of you.

But I also think it is one that passes – over time – and in my case has been replaced by a sense of ‘constant short term nostalgia’.

Timehop is a good example of a service that feeds this desire. It works by reminding you everyday of what you did exactly one year, two years, three years and more, ago to the day on the various social services that you’ve given it access to – your tweets, your photos, your location checkins.

There is no forward or back in the interface. Just the past, exactly to the day. It is a constraint that greatly enhances its appeal/addiction.

Much like my children who won’t, until the Great Power Outage comes, be able to forget the overly-detailed photographic renderings of their childhoods, Timehop (and the more diary-like Momento) is a constant reminder of what you were saying that you were doing, what you thought was interesting enough to photograph, and where you were.

I’m not as concerned as, say Simon Reynolds, about this, but it is uncharted territory. This is related to, but qualitatively different from, the constant warnings to young people about the ‘permanency’ of unfortunate public overshares.

Just as there is value in being able to forget, there may also be value in not ‘seeing socially’ (Goffman, anyone?) – or at least, being able to un-see.

Tags: 11 Comments

  • http://www.jamesmorley.net/ James Morley

    The lack of independent thought is scary. Doing something because you think someone else might like it rather than the fact you did. I wonder if these sites/apps will be clever enough to remind people not just what they said three years ago, but why?

    On the other hand, it really is fascinating, and I love the fact that on Timehop you can’t change the day. Clever ‘under-engineering’.

    A quick question, how far does short-term nostalgia go back? Or is there a simple continuum right back to the day we were born? I guess currently it must start at the date of our digital christening.

    • suse cairns

      James, that’s an interesting contextualising of what I was describing, a “lack of independent thought.” My initial response is to rail against it. Of course I think independently! But really, my thoughts are contextual. I know I think about different things now as a result of the company I keep than I did previously when I kept different company (a good reason to choose wisely those who surround you). The final link that Seb included to Goffman’s work on the presentation of the self in everyday life is surely about this. We situate ourselves in the context of our company and environment. So maybe our thoughts are never independent, but rather are always contingent upon the company we keep?

      • http://www.facebook.com/charmaine.ashpole Charmaine Ashpole

        Was going to disagree vehemently with James but see that Susie did that already. Shared experiences are the basis of all social relationships surely? I use Facebook all the time in this way. Funnily enough I’m usually also pretty good at hosting (in a real space) and getting strangers to talk by referring them to their shared interests. This is a social skill and not one which many have. Great article, Susie. Thanks! Funnily enough, I have an interest in this area and have shared this article. I was going to do my Masters dissertation on the role of social media for museums. Having a baby has somewhat halted me in my tracks in an entirely good way. Social media is a fantastic informal learning tool and canny museums will do well to harness its potential to achieve their own missions :0)

        • http://www.jamesmorley.net/ James Morley

          I think my rather hurried post meant that it was also somewhat superficial. I also confess when I wrote it I hadn’t read Susie’s post, it was just a reaction to what Seb had written. I agree entirely that the effect of social media and the ability to share our thoughts has a profound effect on how we communicate – that is inevitable, which in itself doesn’t mean that it is a negative thing. But how far should it go? I would cite my own experience with my @PhotosOfThePast twitter account where my posts are almost always inspired by what others have said/thought, and my own thoughts of what will stimulate others. But my concern would be that this becomes all consuming and that the initial moment of seeing, for example, an exhibit in a museum is not one that provokes personal thought and contemplation but a more superficial reaction based on who might like it and what witty 140 character statement can be made about it. Maybe I’m somewhat swayed by my experiences of having three teenage children and especially a concern that they do not develop that crucial skill of independent thought. But then again, in a museum context I guess I’d whoop with joy if they were stimulated by an object to say something, anything, about it!

          • suse cairns

            James, interesting questions. The idea that a reactionary thought might be only superficial is understandable, but maybe it isn’t the concern you think it is. According to a Time article “new research published in the journal Memory & Cognition found these Facebook posts are about one and a half times more memorable than sentences in books and two and a half times more memorable than faces.” http://healthland.time.com/2013/01/17/why-youre-more-likely-to-remember-a-facebook-status-than-a-face/

            So maybe that superficial reaction is in itself more likely to be provocative in the longer term than a more considered piece?

          • http://www.jamesmorley.net/ James Morley

            Suse, again I agree, but I think this is only looking at it from the perspective of the reader, whereas my concerns stem from a worry that what was written has been in some way modified by the writer to say what they think others want them to say (or rather what they think might provoke the biggest response), rather than saying what they would more instinctively say. Of course we all do that to some extent, as has been explored above, but just how far should that go? To its ultimate extreme (and here is my little bit of intentional provocation) don’t we all end up just like tabloid journalists, writing to intentionally provoke simply to sell newspapers to please advertisers?

        • suse cairns

          Charmaine, thanks for the kind words on the article! Hopefully you’ll find time to get back to your research in a few years (even if the reason for the delay is a v. good one).

  • http://twitter.com/sebchan sebchan

    For a dystopian look into how it might all turn out, the third episode of Black Mirror season one is totally worth watching.

    http://www.channel4.com/programmes/black-mirror/4od#3327868

    • suse cairns

      Seb, I haven’t watched this yet, but the synopsis sounds like a sci-fi future I’ve been thinking about, in which everything that we saw/experienced every day would be recorded and then ‘downloaded’ into our DNA (since it can now hold data); always able to be reconstituted when required. I’ll check it out.

      • http://twitter.com/sebchan sebchan

        Both series are great. Highly recommended.

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