How the Internet Destroys Our Past
It was from my old friend Meryl. I hadn’t spoken to her in decades. A few weeks later, we met for coffee.
Later I received a Facebook friend request from a mutual friend. Within three days, we had located three more people from that old gang of ours. Then we were four. Then six. Then nine. Then eleven.
We were far-flung but we formed a Facebook group and shared photos of our childhood summers together. We reminisced about the people, the places, the sounds, the smells. For a couple of weeks, our group spent every spare moment in a memory cloud, remembering together things we had forgotten individually. Memories came to us in dreams and flashbacks as we moved through our days. We gathered in Facebook in the evenings, to reminisce.
The fever eventually passed, but we remain in touch and friendships have been rekindled.
One of the most interesting, wonderful, and sometimes not-so wonderful aspects of the Internet for people my age is how it has connected us with our pasts. Suddenly, faces we remember at 16 are right there in front of us, at 50. It’s delightful and disorienting, even though for every ecstatic reunion there are dozens of “so what”? rediscoveries. We’ve figured out that we don’t actually need to reconnect with everyone in our pasts, but the happy reunions make the other clutter worthwhile.
These experiences don’t only reconnect us with other people from our past, but with our own past as well. This can be enlightening. Were you really who you thought you were back then? Others’ memories of who you were then may change the way you see yourself, for better or worse, and maybe profoundly.
A few years ago, I wrote this article about the ways nostalgia can be good for us, and it got me thinking about how the Internet is both facilitating and destroying this kind of experience.
People my age use the Internet to rediscover our pasts, but for kids growing up in the Facebook era, the past will be perpetually present. They won’t have experiences of rediscovery like my friends and I did. With Facebook (and whatever is coming down the line), you can watch friends grow old day by day and year by year instead of having the peculiar experience of a seeing a 30-year-old memory of someone morphed into a 50-year-old face. From now on, you can reunite with high school friends every day if you want, instead of waiting for those intense once-a-decade events.
Whereas my generation and those before me would drift apart from people, in the Internet era you have to actually cut people off, or let them linger in your peripheral vision for all time. What will that mean for our relationships? Will it have any effect on our own self-identity?
My brother and I have a word for when a memory you’d completely forgotten suddenly hits you. We call it a baboom. The Internet is full of babooms, from people, to photos, to old TV commercials. But with time, will the Internet make babooms obsolete?
What will it mean when people can no longer say good-bye their past?
Dembling, S. (2011). How the Internet Destroys Our Past. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 8, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/research/2011/how-the-internet-destroys-our-past/