Preventing Digital Memory Loss

Editor’s Note: Kevin Skobac is a senior vice president for innovation, digital and social at SS+K and the co-founder of SS+K Labs, an in-house incubator of creative technologies. 

For many years we’ve been blissfully riding a personal digital media revolution.  Better technology has solved more problems, enabling us to do more, consume more, and create more. The excitement and upside of new technologies and platforms has driven us to adopt them and surrender to them without considering the potential long term consequences.  As a result, we are slowly approaching a digital day of reckoning, where we’ll be forced to consider the ramifications of our choices in our individual lives.

Consider how our relationship with photographs has changed.  When we moved from film to digital cameras the number of photos we took at a time jumped from tens to hundreds.  And now with high quality phone cameras we’ve gone from hundreds of photos to thousands every year.

We snap pictures all day, allow them to back up to Google, post one or two to Instagram or Facebook, and then don’t think about them again.  Thousands of photos pooled into tens of thousands.  My personal Google+ archive totals over 68,000 as of today.

The effort we had to put into organizing and printing our photo collections is gone. But as a result it’s become incredibly difficult to find any particular picture we’ve taken — like that favorite family photo — a digital needle in a haystack.

We know it’s stored or posted somewhere, but there’s no good way to search for it, and depending on where we put it the metadata, or even the photo itself, is gone.  So as impressive and liberating as technology like Google+’s auto-backup and auto-awesome technology is, being more selective, deliberate, and hands-on with photography is starting to seem pretty important again.

Our written thoughts and memories may be in even worse shape.  For most, long gone are the days of notebooks— exchanged for Geocities or Live Journal pages, for blogs, for Twitter and Facebook.  We may be recording more thoughts than ever, but they’re fragmented in small pieces across many platforms that we have minimal control over.

Facebook and Twitter didn’t even have comprehensive archival search until last month, making it difficult to find our own crumbs.  Worse, many once-popular sites we used to record our intimate thoughts don’t exist anymore, casualties of the fickle web and startup culture.

The good news is, a few companies are thinking about how to prevent this digital amnesia.  The most important of these, the Internet Archive, is a non-profit building a digital library to store all of the information we’re creating around the web that we will regret having lost when websites shut down without warning.

Other companies like Timehop are becoming popular because they dig into our old content and resurface it to remind us of all of the memories we lost track of.  Timehop keeps track of your social properties and pushes you a digest of the text, photos, and check-ins you recorded exactly 1 to 5 years ago that day.

But we can’t just rely on companies to stave off a digital future defined by too much personal content, spread across too many places that we don’t control.  We have to take control for ourselves creating redundancies in how we save our images and how we control our identity.

Backing up content in trusted places that people control themselves is a must.  IFTTT is a great service you can use to make sure all of your social content is also saved in other places.

And while it’s trendy to write on Medium or Quora, having a personal self hosted blog guarantees your thoughts aren’t tied to the fates of publishing platforms you can’t control.

The digital revolution has changed and improved our lives in countless ways.  We can now easily create, consume, and interact more than ever before.  And it certainly feels like everything digital is permanent.  But our blind enthusiasm is starting to catch up with us. Lets not look back with regret on memories we’ve lost.  Instead, lets resolve to take control of our digital lives.