“You have memories with [insert name of anyone ranging from your childhood BFF to your insufferable ex] to look back on today,” reads the Facebook notification illuminating your iPhone screen, the first thing you lay eyes on after struggling to roll out of bed.
You unlock your phone, curious as to what these “memories” may be, and depending on the person or events that the photos involve, the memories may bring up feelings of nostalgia, joy, sadness, heartbreak, humor, or anything in between.
Beneath the heading “3 Years Ago Today” could be a snapshot of you and your best friends at high school graduation, an artsy panorama you took on a family vacation, an embarrassing picture of your awkward middle school self showing off your new braces, or an at-the-time cute selfie with your ex-boyfriend at the beach.
Clearly, Facebook’s new “memories” feature can offer both pleasing and painful experiences. Each day that a Facebook user posted or was tagged in a noteworthy photo exactly one year ago (or two, or three, or four…), the social media site sends a notification enabling—and seemingly encouraging—the user to take a trip down memory lane by viewing those posts from the past. Users can also access these memories by typing in the URL “facebook.com/onthisday.”
The new feature adds to the list of Facebook users’ reasons to open the app or check the website. By engaging with users in a new way and giving them an added reason to check what that little red circle signifies in the corner of their screen, Facebook seems to be maintaining—or even increasing—its pertinence.
It seems that the social network attempts to remain relevant and interesting by continuously adding new features to entertain, inform, and spike curiosity, making them stand out amongst the crowd of other major social media platforms.
In more ways than one, Facebook has become more than just a social media platform to share “What’s on your mind?” along with fun photos and videos. It has become a news source, (“Trending Topics” appear on a right-hand sidebar and readers can easily “share” articles with friends), a communication device (Facebook Messenger offers messaging and calling), a calendar (people can create and attend “events”), a personal assistant (users receive reminders when it’s a friend’s birthday), and now, a personalized scrapbook, enabling people to view blasts from the past with ease.
As Facebook adds more and more handy features, it seems like people’s minds have to work less and less. Why remember friends’ birthdays when Facebook can tell you? Why even remember anything at all if Facebook will bring it back for you and remind you of it in a year’s time?
Facebook’s growing list of abilities and applications to daily life are just one example of humans’ increasing overreliance on technology. This technology includes an abundance of information, entertainment, and methods of instant communication available at one’s literal fingertips. But dependence on these tools can be harmful in terms of Internet addiction, sensory judgment, attention span, and even memory.
According to author Nicholas Carr in an article he wrote for Wired, an excess of inflowing information from various technology sources hinders humans’ ability to conceptualize what they learn and retain the information. The Huffington Post further explains how overreliance on technology is harmful to the short-term memory. Wait, so could Facebook memories actually be hindering people’s ability to remember?
Pros, cons, praise, and doubts aside, the concept of connecting the past and present isn’t an entirely new one just recently introduced by Facebook memories; other sites and apps have already developed various ways to take their users back to the future.
Every Thursday, Instagram feeds are sure to be full of #tbts, giving people an excuse to post old pictures, whether they’re from last week or last year. Google pays tribute to significant people and events, often from the past, by creating celebratory “Doodles.” The app Timehop provides a similar flashback feature as Facebook memories, though it also includes posts and pictures from Instagram, Twitter, the iPhone camera roll, and Foursquare.
Facebook memories have understandably received a wide range of reviews, ranging from praise to disdain to indifference.
“I like them a lot because it lets me see what an idiot I was in middle school,” said Kassie Seavy, MCAS ‘19.
On the other hand, other Facebook users aren’t so much in favor of the reminders of their past, including those who are reasonably upset at seeing photos of loved ones who have passed away. The New York Times explained how to shut off notifications for such memories, by either stopping them altogether or shutting them off for certain people or events.
Others, like Michael Colivas, CSOM ‘19, have been simply unaffected by Facebook memories. “I literally have never used that thing before,” he said of the new addition to Facebook.
While some users have grown annoyed at all the notifications and reminders of the past, others may be completely unaware of the update. Those with few online photos from years past may not have encountered any Facebook memories because there are none available to look back on.
Then perhaps Facebook’s rising pertinence and interactivity from the “On This Day” page is only applicable to those tagged in a plethora of old, often cringe-worthy photos. People lacking this virtual treasure chest of photos must then have to recollect important people, places, and special occasions using their own brains.
In the end, it’s unlikely that Facebook’s memories will singlehandedly destroy people’s ability to remember, nor their creativity, independence, or intelligence. But the new feature, along with other innovative applications introduced by other social media companies, highlights the rapid pace at which technology has invaded—and continues to invade—all aspects of life.
While such services can be helpful, convenient, time-saving, or just plain entertaining, it’s important to try to maintain some of our humanity through personal connection, intellectual stimulation, emotional expression, and creativity.
So the next time you come across a Facebook memory that brings a smile to your face, go out and share your joy with whoever is in the picture with you, or print out the photo to include in a real-life scrapbook.