We tend to think our memory is much like a camera – that we can replay events from memory with detail, exactly as they happened. But truth is far from it. In fact, our memory is quite miserable. Studies repeatedly show to what extent. You must have noticed it too – whenever you argue with your partner about a past event and she claims things went down differently than you remember – it’s not that she’s lying, nor is she crazy! She truly recalls a different version of the events than yours. And neither are probably precisely what happened. Without getting too philosophical about it (what is truth and does it exist outside our minds?), I’ll stick to what’s known: our memory is wired so that it changes with time. Every single time we use a memory, we store it back slightly altered. You see how easily over time and many uses of the same memory, any relationship between it and the original event is loose, at best.
As an app geek and life logging addict, I’ve been using many services over the past few years to help me remember my life. I’ve been logging where I was, what I did, what I saw, how I felt - basically everything I could find a service for. The brilliant “The Entire History of You” takes that approach a step further. It depicts a futuristic world where our whole life is recorded into a chip implanted behind our ear, playable for anyone to see. Sounds freaky? It is.
Ta-da! Enter timehop.
A year ago I started using this incredible app, and I have completely fallen in love with it since. Timehop is a super simple service that reminds you every day exactly what you were doing a year ago today. It started out as a daily email (now also available on iOS) that shows you every morning your posts & pictures from twitter, facebook, instagram & foursquare from a year ago today. As funny as it may sound to an outsider, slowly but surely it has become my favorite app of the day. It has all the ingredients that any great technology has: it makes me look forward to it (every single morning!), makes me smile, and every time I use it – it feels like magic. And as every good technology, it rewires my brain with every single use.
How the brain stores memories is one of the toughest questions regarding the human mind. What we undoubtedly know, however, is how fallible it is. To top it off, by now we know that technology – and specifically Google – rewires the memory process (and I’ve even written my take on that). Not only do memories deteriorate over time, but they are also frequently recalled erroneously. Now imagine, once a year you give your memory a boost with some real past events. A reality check, if you will. Such a simple and elegant way to better your memory using technology. I wonder if the timehop guys knew what they were onto :)
With timehop I discovered that “less is more”. By stripping down remembering to a push reminder about a single day, 365 days ago, the timehop team has succeeded in distilling that ever elusive enormous digital memory of our lives into an easily digestible, fun and current manifestation of it. The app doesn’t require too much of your attention, the interaction with it is very limited. When you open it you know it won’t take you longer than a minute or two before you’re on to the next thing. It’s perfectly suited to our information overloaded ADD lives. And that’s the thing about technology. Making it fun and easy is no less important than making it work and do amazing things that are “indistinguishable from magic”.
So before we have that all-encompassing, omniscient machine – a stripped down version is a great substitute. And perhaps even better. Who can tell what effect this total recollection we see coming upon us have on our lives? As Borges notes in Funes the Memorious, ”to think is to forget”. It is forgetting, not remembering, that makes us human. What narratives will we build in our lives if, like Funes, all we have are details? An entire history might simply be too much. So kick back and watch your history on timehop – trust me – only a few pictures and words are needed. Nothing more.