Organised and created by Gene McHugh, there is a site called When all of my friends are on at once. The website is a simple and nostalgic collections of quotes and stories, all of them dedicated to memories of being online. As you click through the different stories and screenshots, you are taken back to very different and real time of the internet to what we have now, after reading the stories you’re left with an outro from Gene McHugh that raises a powerful question on how we treat memory online.
“There’s something about an adolescence spent online that’s difficult to remember. There’s an embarrassment to dreading these things up. In general, the internet is so focused on the present that it’s difficult to recall what it looked like even a few years ago, a few months ago. It’s like remembering a dream, it doesn’t seem to have actually happened despite the fact that you experienced it.
Beyond that, culture doesn’t provide imagery of ‘early memories’ that account for the cyborg experience of being online. What are some of the cliches? Running around in nature, walking up the stairs of an old house, a first kiss – these are physical experiences, not virtual ones. And yet here we are – ‘we’ being people young enough to have had our social, psychological, sexual, cultural, etc., etc, development massively impacted by the internet and its associated technologies. One of the contributing artist told me that working on this was like participating in group therapy.”
Gene McHugh has touched on something that effects most of us. Our development mentally and psychically has been effected by our online experience, as it still does now. What’s interesting is that our culture seems to distance the internet, treating it as a separate space or experience to our real one. McHugh uses the cliches of a first kiss or walking up the stairs of an old house, when you explore how we treat memory it’s fixed on these physical moments, getting your first bicycle, family photo albums, holidays and so on; but they are romanticised with nostalgia. It’s possible that the reason we don’t have the same memory experiences in our culture regarding our online experience is because of the non physical aspect, you can’t touch it, it is not a real space that you can feel and sense, in some ways our online experience are fake. Our memory online is based on the literal, we look back at statuses and old pictures in a similar way we look at photo albums, yet, when we revisit old websites or programs they are not the same, they have changed or in some cases deleted which leads to another, possibly the most important fact, that our memory online can be deleted, it is a fragile and fake world that we build, we have the control to create who we are now, and who we once were.
Our regular use of the internet and its naturally ever changing landscape is something that we should be aware of when creating material online. We have grown accustomed to the nature and ever changing landscapes of the internet, the concept of memory online is not only linked to our own experiences but also linked to our attitude towards online content and how we are using these programs and sites. If we are to agree that the internet has a great affect on the way that we are developing and interacting, we should look at how media online, both mainstream and independent, more often than not has a very fast paced attitude to producing content, we are well aware that many news organisations produce news story after news story, and it is often the case that once the “big” story has died down or lost public attention, it moves along to the next “big thing”. News fatigue is very real, however, the first to the post attitude of online content has changed the ground work for new apps, media and magazines; it has become a some what industry standard that media and magazines are following, using these same templates and creating online content as often as possible to maintain views and gain followers in the hopes of greater exposure or for advertisements. This has also had an effect on the way that we are producing online content, sharing our own lives and stories, Twitter only allows short single posts, Snapchat creates videos that disappear after a time, Instagram followed this model and shortly after so did Facebook with their own story sharing feature. The nature of sharing has now become the same fast paced and first to the post attitude, some would argue that we are sharing these short moments as means of proof, “I was here, I did this”, a means of gratification and confirmation, for the likes and making us feel connected. The fact that many of these real shared moments are naturally deleted after a short period of time has, in turn, had an effect on our attitude towards memory online, slowly we are creating a sense that our online experiences don’t matter, because the content lasts 24 hours and then it is gone forever, keeping everything focused on the present as means of creating a senes of instant connection, as if to be all online at once.
Of course we have the option to save the videos and images that we share, as for those memories that we share to timelines or grids, even those we save to our phones, are in some ways, limited to time. The newsfeed and timeline in its making means that anything posted a week, even a day ago is hard to find unless saved. It would be impractical to go back through our facebook news feeds to find posts from friends or family shared a month ago let alone years ago, and that’s that point; our online experience is tailored towards the present and not the past, it is built to be actively impractical, it is built to be fast paced, and when you go to sleep or close an app, it’s a natural refresh the next time you log on, new stories, new content.
We should take into account a number of factors, the first being, as McHugh touches on in his series When all of my friends are on at once, is our memory and how we treat memory online, should our culture towards online experiences change and archive more, or should we make the systems that we share all of our memories online be more practical and with more emphasis on the past as well as the present. The second factor should be to examine is the effects of the current state of our online experiences, both as an affect on culture and the reactionary effects within media, programs and systems being created now. It seems that many of the issues surrounding memory, experience and creation online are linked with a lack of vision for a future online, it has become consumed with corporate power with the largest companies owning most of our online traffic, controlling where we click next through algorithms and suggestions that predict our nature and characters, a destruction of real culture and movements that become commodified. I would argue now, that the internet of our youth has died, and like a memory, we can now only look back with nostalgia. The real question lies within the future of the internet, how it continues to be used and what the youth of today will be growing up alongside, effecting their developments, social engagements and interpersonal relationships.