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Digital Archives

Posted on 18 March 2013

archives by dolescum


Yesterday, on yet another piece of advice from Frank Chimero’s blog (the first being this), I started creating a music diary using Rdio. The idea is simple:

“make a new list of frequently listened-to songs each month, and ledger them into a playlist without worrying about how it all sounded together.

“Sticking a song to a month and year turns it into a more spacious memory palace.”

I started with March, and then went back and did January and February 2013 (I did this by looking, which keeps track of almost everything I listen to- the difference with these new playlists is I filter out the stuff that has no meaning and get to add things that misses). As soon as I started compiling January the value of this practice became obvious: I was transported back to random moments in time in January, from the obvious (like concerts) to the simple like cooking a particular meal.

I’ve always found music to be an incredible memory-gate for me. Hearing a song can take me back to anything from walking down a particular street on a Saturday while I was in high school to road trips with my parents to trying to fall asleep and listening to the radio. So this makes complete sense: a listenable archive of memories.

My only regret is that I didn’t start doing this earlier, which isn’t the first time I’ve had this thought in recent weeks. A while back I was updating my resume (a good practice to do every once in a while) when I noticed I didn’t have my exact graduation date on hand. LinkedIn has the month but not the day. “No problem!” I thought. “I’ll check Foursquare.” Of course, then I realized I didn’t use Foursquare back then so couldn’t go to the archives and find the day I headed up to UNBC for convocation. Flickr, my other go-to archive, wasn’t much help either, because I didn’t start using it until 2010, a year after I graduated. These two services have become like a personal Wikipedia: I can check what the weather was like on a particular day by looking at a photo, or remember exactly when it was that I went to that restaurant by looking at my stats around it on Foursquare. Twitter and Facebook updates are also good reminders of what was going on x number of years ago, and LinkedIn is the start-point for any new cv I make.

My life, and the life of pretty much everyone, is being divided into two parts: pre-digital and post-digital. The post-digital world is easy to track, tag, and file away for easy reference when our memories fail us. The pre-digital world is increasingly inaccessible- who wants to drag out old calendars or boxes of unsorted photos to try and get the exact timing of certain events (assuming you can even find them in the first place)?

I’m of two minds of this. On the one hand, I have a pretty poor memory so I’m glad of the ability to have something like Timehop email me every day to let me know what my past self was doing, or to be able to take a trip through Flickr and Rdio to trigger memories that would otherwise be hidden away. There’s a good chance I wouldn’t have a better memory if I didn’t have these digital archives. Previous generations of my family who weren’t surrounded by computers tell me they’ve always had trouble remembering things, too.

On the other hand, it worries me that my post-digital life is so much more accessible than my pre-digital one. The memories that weren’t digitally photographed or carefully recorded through status updates are no less important than those that were- but they occupy a far less prominent place in my life because they aren’t bolstered by online storage. Photographs replace the mind’s eye, the written word trumps the oral retelling, and our computers become the authority on who we are.

photo: Archives’ stacks by dolescum


Filed under: personal, technology

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