Digitization comes with it: we can hardly save ourselves from memories on the web, in apps and timelines. What started as a photo app is everywhere today.
Spotify breaks down what we’ve been listening to this year. Ads remind us what we’re watching at every turn, and even delivery service apps now have an annual review showing us how many times we’ve decided not to cook something ourselves. How did that actually happen?
The platforms are booming with interest
So, like a lot of other things on the internet, it’s all about attention, which then turns into money. Whether it’s because it reminds you of Google products and doesn’t go over the competition, or because many share their annual streaming review and thus advertise the company for free.
“For most providers of these retrospectives, it doesn’t matter if people are infected,” says Leila Vitek, referring to the fact that the app offers happy photos from old relationships or photos of pets who have died. “What matters is the interest it generates.”
What almost all of these memory algorithms have in common: They’re not particularly smart. Technology will be able to learn our actions and assess whether we used to take a lot of pictures of people but haven’t taken them for a few years. But this did not happen.
This is also due to the fact that only assumed ideals are generally applied during planning, Lajla Fetic explains. At this point, the algorithmic code is based on a “normative idea of life”.
The problem is that the standard human does not exist, nor is it possible to predict how a person will react. While one person may be overwhelmed with grief upon encountering a deceased loved one, another person may rejoice.
However, it is important that “technology serves people and society and that we do not subject ourselves to technology,” says Lajla Vitek. When in doubt, algorithms should be regulated so that people are not left alone with digital self-defense against corporations worth billions.
Commercial orientation can be a burden
Through processes controlled by algorithms, users can also find things they previously did not associate with their past. Because, unlike an analog picture or other randomly appearing object, a display on platforms may have been created by others, “but then we encounter it for the first time in memory,” explains Christian Benzold.
Continuously recorded daily life
We humans – and this is part of our cultural history – have always built things, texts, images and materials that we use to remember. It always brings us closer to a piece of the past and helps us visualize the past. But what we observe now is a complete record of daily life. Everyday life that can appear again and again, even beyond our control.
Many people’s lives are now being lived very intensely with these platforms. This made it very difficult for users to forget things they might want to forget, Pentzold said. “We have to keep in mind that always remembering means that we are also capable of forgetting things.”
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