Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reshaping Our Memories Through Our Digital Lives

The prevalence of social media clearly encourages life documentation and content creation- from videos of a child’s first steps to instagram photos of last night’s dinner. As a result, the way that people create and store memories is changing. This is compounded with the sheer magnitude of content that is created (including the 200 million tweets and 250 million Facebook photos that are uploaded per day), which affects the actual amount people can remember. To address this, a growing number of services and brands are organizing to this forgotten information and adding meaning to these dormant memories.

Over the last few years, the Internet has had a profound effect on how people remember things during the experience and also afterwards. People rely on the Internet to act as an external hard drive where information is stored outside of their heads. Called the Google Effect, people actually remember less if they know where to access it if they need it. As a result, people spend less time thinking about what they’re experiencing or posting, because they know that they can revisit it later.

But past social media content is also getting cluttered with content, making memories harder to find. Usage of social media grew 66% between 2009 and 2010, giving users even more opportunities to create content. With the adoption of even more publishing and creative sites, like Tumblr and Pinterest, there are even more ways for people to generate photos, videos, and text. Media that we assumed we could easily access is now hidden under hundreds of Facebook photos, thousands of comments— the massive amounts of content that we now create every day. These digital footprints are typically thought of in the short term and they are consumed and disposed of thoughtlessly.

Memory engineering, as it is referred to by Clive Thompson, is “the process of fashioning our inchoate digital pasts into useful memories.” Social media websites in particular are evolving to offer ways to reshape how we re-visit our digital memories. These sites are doing this by creating sense, order, and utility out of our ever-growing digital footprints and using it to create content that is interesting and meaningful.

When users revisit their content, they don’t necessarily want an algorithm to decide what was meaningful to them based on the most likes or comments. They want to find the content and memories that are meaningful to them. Brands can help to do that by giving the context to them and allowing the user to create, or find, their own meanings.

The Museum of Me, an effort by Intel to create a visual achieve of this digital information, was an example of how brands could use using consumers’ own memories to create an experience. Brands can also add value to their consumers’ lives by creating useful memories, like how Orangina International reminds users of their Facebook firsts.

These memory instigators are frequently simple (just a few words or a photo) but they can trigger a larger story as the brain fills in the details. These memories can be episodic- like Foursquare and seven years ago, which reminds Foursquare users of where they were exactly a year ago via daily email. Or, these memories can be semantic, like the Kindle’s Daily Review app, which takes news clippings and reminds users of them weeks or months later to assist retention.

The latest Facebook profile Timeline redesign, which changed the Facebook’s profile page into a historical record of that user’s interactions, is a clear example of this trend. Regarding the update, product manager Sam Lessin said “Imagine if there was an easy way to rediscover the things you shared, and collect all your best moments in a single place. With Timeline, now you have a home for all the great stories you’ve already shared. They don’t just vanish as you add new stuff.”

By being able to organize digital collections, brands can help people collect their memories in a meaningful and relevant. The focus of social media is expanding from just content creation to memory facilitation and utility. These memories can tap in to deep human desires and create an emotional bond with a digital entity. Memory engineering is the next step in creating a meaningful digital relationship.

(reposted from)
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