Memories in the digital age: Is it too easy to forget?

How many photos do you take every day? How many in a week? How often do you take time to look through the photos in your camera roll? Like a lot of us, the only time many of the pictures on our phones are seen is when we get the dreaded notification we’re running out of storage. Then the first port of call is usually to see which photos we can delete.

On the other side of the digital deluge are the tangible prints of photos that we cherish. These are often kept in boxes at the back of our closets or under beds. These contain the memories we want to hold on to, in every sense of the phrase. 

The way we remember

In our digital age, the way we actually remember is changing. No longer do we have to actively remember moments from our past, we simply have to know which app to click on or which file to open. This means the event can begin to feel separate from ourselves. While there are still obvious benefits to this – you can replay that video of your friends singing karaoke over and over again – there is also the possibility that the abundance of digital memories can lead to us losing our real ones.

With cameras and video cameras always so close to hand, a compulsion has developed to record every detail of our lives – think of all the food photos on Instagram or how many times there’s nothing but a sea of screens at a live event. This drive to constantly record our lives can take away from the real enjoyment of an experience, diminishing that unforgettable feeling of being lost in the moment. And there’s no arguing that watching a blurred, shaky video post-event can ever be the same as the feeling of actually being there – in the midst of that concert, comedy gig, or even your best friend’s wedding. 

Memory boxes help us to keep our memories alive in a way an illuminated image on a screen cannot. The act of taking out a box of mementoes from our past and holding each one in our hands forges a stronger emotional connection than flicking through a digital photo album. The whole experience is more intimate, it can help us remember how the moment actually felt while we were living it. Andrew Hoskins is a Research Professor at the College of Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow and Founding Editor-in-Chief of the Sage Journal of Memory Studies. And he believes that, “Despite the decay and wear and tear of photographs, letters and other objects that are reminders of people and past experiences, their keeping is like holding on to those people and experiences.”

The act of slowly and carefully leafing through a box of memories engages all five of our senses, and this is what helps to make the memories feel “real” to us again. So, maybe it’s time to transfer some of your most cherished digital photos into the real world, dust off the memory box under the bed and add real-life prints to keep your favourite memories alive.

Thinking inside the box…

For a closer look at the act of remembering in the digital vs the analogue world, take a look at ‘‘Making Memories: Is the Digital Age Transforming How We Remember?’,where a range of experts have their say about the ways our memories are changing and evolving.