}

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Lost Memories


I first saw this very short film when it was posted to Facebook by Upworthy under the title, “Oh Great, Now I'm Depressed AND On Facebook”. Rollie Williams wrote in the Upworthy post: “I don't know how probable an event like this is, but I bet the point this video is making is slightly deeper than ‘I need to back up my hard drive.’"

Yes, it is. The Description on Vimeo says: “Paris, 2020. A beautiful couple, a city over-saturated by holograms and digital stream. A Polaroid camera. Tomorrow will never be the same.” It’s more than that, too.

The film, by visual effects artist Francois Ferracci, shows the tenuousness of memory—and, by extension, identity—in an era in which our lives, loves and adventures are Facebooked, Tweeted, text messaged, emailed and so on. With so much of the evidence of our lives existing only in digital form, what would happen if our access to all this digital memory was suddenly lost?

A few years ago, my good friend Jason was talking about a book he’d read that was based on the letters between John and Abigail Adams, and how now, in the era of email, there could very well be nothing comparable for future historians to pore over. Post offices around the world are failing as volume of mail sent—including letters and greeting cards—declines. I think he was right.

Like so many others, I haven’t mailed a personal letter on paper in years. I have thousands and thousands of digital photos, few of which are printed (though there are multiple digital back-ups, of course). All of those emails and photos, all the stuff I’ve Facebooked, Tweeted, podcasted or blogged, as well as the comments I’ve left for others, could be lost forever in an instant.

Some big companies have contingency plans to prevent the permanent loss of commercial digital material (at least), but how many of us have any kind of plan for our own stuff? What should we safeguard? Actually, should we safeguard at all?

The future Paris in the film is, like much of the documentary evidence of our lives, something that exists only in digital form. Francois Ferracci posted a fascinating video of the “Visual Effects Breakdown”, showing how the look of the film emerged. An interview with him on One Small Window includes before/after stills.

There’s nothing particularly new about the questions posed by the film, of course, but I think it presents them in an accessible and visually interesting way. Memory inevitably fades over time. What we choose to do to, if anything, to preserve those memories is up to us.

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