Damian Thompson Damian Thompson

Technology is robbing us of the power to forget

[iStock]

Two years ago, Lauren Goode, a senior writer at Wired magazine, cancelled her wedding and it was awkward. These things always are, but you get over it because the brain slowly learns how to skip over painful memories. Or it did, before social media.

Goode has made a career out of wittily stripping away the pretensions of consumer tech, and when her wedding plans blew up consumer tech had its revenge. She ended her eight-year relationship in 2019 — but the internet didn’t get the message and kept confronting her with ‘a cyborg version of me, a digital ghost, that is still getting married’.

As she wrote in Wired, at the beginning of this year her social media feed was still cluttered with wedding ads, ‘a near-daily collage of wedding paraphernalia’ from the image-sharing platform Pinterest, plus reminders of the fiasco vomited up by the wretched ‘Memories’ feature on photo apps.

She was even mocked by a picture of the fried egg she had on the morning she called off her wedding. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for people who insist on photographing their breakfast, but you can’t blame Goode for using her professional connections to complain to Pinterest’s head of core product, Omar Seyal, about being hunted down by his company’s wedding-obsessed algorithms. He told her ‘We call this the miscarriage problem’, and didn’t even notice her flinch, because Silicon Valley is cold-blooded like that.

In the end Goode sat down and manually untagged her ex’s face from photos, turned off notifications, removed cookies and repeatedly cleared her browser’s cache. But she didn’t complete ‘the big delete’ because it was too exhausting, even for one of the smartest tech journalists in America. Also, she was freaked out by ‘the total obliteration of my memories’.

When I first read that, I thought: are millennials’ memories really so pixelated that they can simply delete them? But actually Goode is guilty of only slight exaggeration.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.

Or

Unlock more articles

REGISTER

Comments

Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in