Does Your Digital Footprint Influence Who You Are?

“Memories how they fade so fast
Look back there is no escape…”

Buggles 1981 (I Am A Camera)
Gmail had recently informed me that I must delete some emails because my inbox was full. I diligently executed the order. I started at 2004, selected only files with attachments and deleted them all. I did not check what they were, if I had, I would have recanted on the entire entreprise.

In the end I deleted all emails with attachment from 2004 to 2006. Suddenly I felt a sensation akin to having performed a self-lobotomy. Is deleting emails like losing memory I wondered. By implication, if I lose memory, do I not lose part of who I am?

I knew that some of these emails contained pictures, some of myself, some of friends and family. I might have deleted hundreds overall. Did I just forever lose the ability to remember myself “when I’m 64”.

How many pictures and videos are there of yourself? You know, those taken by your parents and friends, maybe thousands if not more. Now think about your parents, how many pictures of them are there? Probably far less. What about your grandparents ? In the right circumstances, they might have been photographed a few times as children.

These considerations sparked a discussion during our last #bloggingfriday in Novembre 2011. Does our ability to document and digitise all aspects and moments of our lives change our personalities; are we different because we have access to our past? Another way to put this is to consider whether you and I might have been different people had we been born before the invention of the camera.

Personalities, identities, character, rely on our memories. We have a sense of self because we can remember what we did yesterday and how we felt when we slowly dipped a madeleine in a glass of cold milk when we were children.

We now know that memories as imperfect. The act of remembering is unlike the process of playing a video one more time. Remembering is akin to summoning various demons from various part of the brain and reconfiguring all this in the impression of an image, sound, touch taste, or even a feeling (I remember I was happy that day). But to confuse matters even more, we remember about remembering; every time we remember an event, it is not exactly the same souvenir that appears in your mind. It is slightly different one, affected by your mood at that precise moment, who is around you, how your tastes evolve etc…

“Nous trouvons de tout dans notre mémoire; elle est une espèce de pharmacie, de laboratoire de chimie, où on met au hasard la main tantôt sur une drogue calmante, tantôt sur un poison dangereux”. Marcel Proust

In the end, these considerations around identity, digital identity and memory prompted Laura Corbett and A.J. Barroso to discuss respectively the implications of a full “memory inbox” and the burdens of “emotional bagage 2.0“.

Remembrance of Things Past?”

One response to “Does Your Digital Footprint Influence Who You Are?

  1. This reminded me of a post I wrote a couple of years ago and posted one year ago on digital identity:

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