4SquareAnd7YearsAgo. The service plugs into your Foursquare “check-ins”—those geotagged notes showing where you ate, drank, and socialized. Each morning, it finds your check-ins from precisely one year earlier and emails you a summary.
The result is a curiously powerful daily jolt of reminiscence. I talked to Giovanni on July 20, the one-year anniversary of his thesis defense, as he looked over the check-ins for that day. According to the recap, he arrived on campus at 7:42 am to set up (with music from Transformers 2 pounding in his head), left the building at 12:42 pm after getting an A, then hit a movie theater to celebrate with friends. Giovanni hadn’t thought about that day in a long while, but it all came rushing back.
“It’s like this helps you reshape the memories of your life,” he told me.
4SquareAnd7YearsAgo is an example of a new trend I call memory engineering—the process of fashioning our inchoate digital pasts into useful memories.”
Clive Thompson on Memory Engineering - this is fantastic - not just a scrolling vista or diary of your past (digital) life but rather, the equivalent of a particular smell jostling a long-forgotten memory for the digital age. Nostalgia is a powerful drug.
Later on the article describes a new Amazon service called Daily Review, which displays your kindle clippings from the last week or month, a timed schedule to help your brain absorb your reading more deeply. There’s something wonderful about this. So often we do this with books-as-physical object - see a well-thumbed novel lying on a table or on a bookshelf, and you reach out and page through, stopping to laugh at your highlights or remember the best parts of the story. There isn’t the same appeal in skimming through a well-read digital edition however, but this service pulls the highlights, the memories, out of the book - partly replacing that pleasure in a virtual space, but also augmenting it.
The problem with nostalgia is that it can be, in the end, a thin experience - just a wall of feeling, without the nudge to reassess, to analyse, to examine - but services like this can be that nudge - to draw us from a simple feeling into a deeper thinking. It’s not about replacing human memory with the algorithm - it’s about complementing it.