Let's face it. I'm tech-savvy, in my early (soon to be mid) thirties. Born too late to have anything in common with Generation X, too early to be a Millennial. Other people of my rough age have photographs and letters as mementos of the past; bits of nostalgia and recorded history, but that's where the tech-savvy part comes in. I relied on a datashadow, on disks and electrons, and quite a bit of that is gone now.
For almost everything, email took the place of letters. I got a hotmail address in 1997; graduated to MyRealBox in 2000. Hotmail at the time closed any account that was inactive for more than three months; I think I last looked at it before I went to Germany in 2001. By May 2001, every conversation I'd had pre-May 2000 vanished. I got a gmail account back before they enforced "googlemail" in EU — late June 2004 — and slowly transitioned to there. I stopped using MyRealBox shortly after; I last looked at it early 2005. MyRealBox closed in 2011. Again, every conversation May 2000 to June 2004 went away. I used provided email as well, of course — first from the university then from a string of employers — but I always knew they were going away. I used to forward interesting conversations to my "personal" mail provider of choice so I'd have an archive, but I never had the impetus to swim through the archives when I moved personal mail to a new platform.
I used to have an archive of email, of course. That's one of the points of using a mail client. A couple of massive hard disk failures lead to losing everything around 2005. As a result, pretty much every long-form communication I've had with people before mid-2004 is dead and gone. I no longer have the music collection that I built up through Napster and Kazaa as a student. I don't have the shitty short stories I wrote when doing my A-Levels (though to be fair, that's a fucking blessing).
I've got some letters, I think, but I don't know where they are and I might even have lost them in a flat move. It's hard to say. I've got about five photographs prior to my iPhoto library, which starts in mid-2006. It's funny in a depressing way to think that this livejournal is pretty much my memory archive, full as it is of adolescent tantrums and idiotic shit.
Since 1997, I've relied on my datashadow as an external memory. I don't have letters or pictures, I have a search box. When I talk about my smartphone as an external brain, I mean it. I don't have amnesia or anything, but mnemonic keys — the rush of feeling and memory that you get on seeing an old picture or a letter and remembering something that you'd not thought about for years — live in email and on disk, and I've lost a lot of them. I have no evidence of what I did between roughly 1997 and 2003/2004.
The past is mutable — memories are a story we tell ourselves, not a record of truth. No matter how well you remember something, that doesn't mean that it happened. Having mnemonic keys and artefacts don't just trigger memories, they help keep them grounded. Letters key you in how you really felt at the time and how a friendship or relationship actually happened, rather than how you now remember it. Photos show you what happened or how you looked to the outside world, rather than how you remember yourself looking. Artefacts are the only way we have to ground our memories in reality, so it's funny in a slightly depressing way to wonder just how many of my memories pre-2004 have any bearing on what actually happened.
Originally posted at Dreamwidth, where people have commented. Please join them. You can log in there with your Livejournal account.