Wired Magazine: Clive Thompson on Memory Engineering

Do you remember what you were doing a year ago today? Daniel Giovanni does. A social media specialist in Jakarta, Indonesia, he recently began using a clever service called 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo. The service plugs into your Foursquare “check-ins”—those geotagged notes showing where you ate, drank, and socialized. Each morning, it finds your check-ins from precisely one year earlier and emails you a summary.

The result is a curiously powerful daily jolt of reminiscence. I talked to Giovanni on July 20, the one-year anniversary of his thesis defense, as he looked over the check-ins for that day. According to the recap, he arrived on campus at 7:42 am to set up (with music from Transformers 2 pounding in his head), left the building at 12:42 pm after getting an A, then hit a movie theater to celebrate with friends. Giovanni hadn’t thought about that day in a long while, but it all came rushing back.

“It’s like this helps you reshape the memories of your life,” he told me.

4SquareAnd7YearsAgo is an example of a new trend I call memory engineering—the process of fashioning our inchoate digital pasts into useful memories.

Right now, of course, our digital lives are so bloated they’re basically imponderable. Many of us generate massive amounts of personal data every day—phonecam pictures, text messages, status updates, and so on. By default, all of us are becoming lifeloggers. But we almost never go back and look at this stuff, because it’s too hard to parse.

Never thought that my name could be written on Wired Magazine (Oct 2011) because of using 4squareand7yearsago.com. I should’ve post this on my Posterous to get it archived (and I think I’ll get the printed one too).


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