There’s no time like the past


What were you doing a year ago today? Facebook is in the process of rolling out an “On This Day” feature that allows you to see your posts and photos from your own recent-ish history.

Similar “nostalgia apps” have reached critical traction recently, with Timehop accessed by 6 million daily users and newcomers like Memoir catching the attention of venture capitalists. Yet as these companies offer us up our digital pasts, we must consider our appetite to revisit those memories and the ways in which we want them served.

Obviously not all memories are positive and not all pasts are fun to revisit. Facebook learned this the hard way when it released its “Year in Review” feature, that automatically compiled your most liked photos from the past year. The feature backfired when the algorithm resurfaced painful memories for many. As a result Facebook has created rules (and complex algorithms) to dictate what information can surface with On This Day.

Still, the success of apps like Timehop, and those cringey #tbt and #fbf we keep getting tagged in, demonstrate that – as The Verge put it – we share “a common nostalgic itch”. If we are offered the chance to take a look back in time, it is hard to resist a quick peek, and our growing mass of personal timestamped digital information is making this easy for social networks to dish up.

In time, the ability to draw on our digital histories to produce a more vivid capture of times past will affect how we experience our own past as well as the lives of others. What if you could look at what your mother or grandmother was doing and thinking twenty, thirty, forty years ago today? What if we could revisit traumatic memories for therapeutic effects? What if virtual reality coupled with our digital histories could heighten our recreation of a memory?

This list originally appeared in Moving World Wednesday 20150325

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