It’s a 10 am lecture on a Monday morning. I’m switching between the same three apps on my phone. Has my increased intake of caffeine led to a late-onset lack of attention span? Is my new-found anxiety of the Nescafe persuasion, or pandemically-induced? I look at the other faces on my screen, puffy and disgruntled. I try to figure out if they can tell I’m not really participating, while also finding camaraderie in the other students who are also, not as stealthily, doing the same as me.
Snapchat. An app that now feels vintage to me compared to the new kid on the block – TikTok. It alerts me to a “Flashback” from 1 year ago, today. It’s me wearing a backless red top, quite a contrast from the XXL 2Pac t-shirt I’m currently doused in. I’m singing along to a tinny Mamma-Mia soundtrack as I swing around a mug of rosé in a room scattered with my equally glossy and tone-deaf best friends.
Whether we’re pre-drinking for a night out, or having a chilled night in, I look at my phone with rose-tinted regret. I regret how much I took for granted before the world went tits-up. How the “1 year ago, today” me would find it hilarious how I now equate an active social life with daily walks and awkward Zoom breakout room banter. I find this nearly as painful as paying £9k for two online seminars a week.
I recently read an article about memory. It said that when we remember something, we’re not remembering the actual event. Instead, the last time we remembered it. I find it eerie how something so personal and cognitive can be converted into pixels and technology. I wonder whether this only adds to the half-life of the way we process memories.Does it make us mentally lazy? What’s the point in actively remembering something when your phone will do it for you?
Then, our memories are not really a direct memory from the event itself. More so, the last time we remembered it. If most of our memories are now solely recalled via flashback features, are our precious memories being intrinsically linked to our growing relationship with technology against our fading relationship with ourselves? It all sounds very Black Mirror, I know.
Before these social-media curated “memories,” I guess we entirely relied upon ourselves for remembering things. A scar from a dodgy cliff-dive two years ago in Spain. A badge from that protest that radicalized you. A grimy wristband from your first ever festival. Or simply, an actual, tangible photograph (how vintage!) of that girls’ holiday in Croatia when you were 17. I wonder, do we even bother to keep keepsakes or souvenirs anymore as a means of preserving memory?
We all romanticize our parent’s picture stashes from the 1990s. Analysing the living-room decor, the equally questionable hairstyles. Pondering over what it was like to live under Blair instead of Boris. I feel nostalgic for a time I wasn’t even alive in. Wishing we could go back to hold-able cinema and gig ticket stubs (not just a QR code on your phone). This retro lens I’ve seemingly developed as a coping mechanism has got me salvaging crumpled up Tesco receipts as a last-ditch effort to live in the tangible world of memory. A world which my parents’ generation so easily existed within.
I send the ‘memory’ to the friends involved. They respond with anything from a heart emoji to an “I miss you! We need to FaceTime soon!” message, and that’s that. That’s the last time we’ve recalled that memory, which means that the next time we remember it, we’ll be remembering this contrived and unnatural moment as opposed to the actual night itself.
Before getting too sad or existential, as if he could sense it, my professor puts us into breakout rooms. We all feign engagement and choose from the three scripted topics anyone in our demographic can talk about; lockdown, dissertations, and queries over when pubs will be open again.
I wonder, who else on my screen has had a similar “1 year ago, today” memory bulldoze its way into their morning. Maybe they’re feeling just as nostalgic as me.