People will forget about you – and that’s okay

28 Feb 2024

Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. And those who do know it can't help but talk about the millennia that came before us. In her column, history graduate Antonia Leise reflects on strange histories – and talks about why a bit of perspective can help with making sense of the present.

‘Let me just take a picture real quick.’ My friend whips her phone out, wiggles our respective lunch orders into the right angle, and stamps the fleeting existence of my beetroot salad down in digital memory. I love it when people do that.

By the time I usually remember to commemorate my coffee, whatever latte art the barista has come up with is slurped away already. I’m not good at keeping memories. I forget to take pictures of the coffees I share with friends, just as much as I forget about photographing birthdays, weddings, and Christmases.

Some of the best and worst days of my life have just passed me by, entirely undocumented on film. As if they have never existed at all – at least according to my phone memory. Even though, of course, they have. And I still remember them – until I can’t one day.

‘Some of my best and worst days have just passed by, entirely undocumented. As if they have never existed at all’

No generation has ever produced more content than this one. There is a never-ending flow of videos and photos and text snippets flying around – on phones and laptops and, of course, on the internet.

Until recently, I had no idea what my great-grandmother looked like, but my great-grandchildren will be able to tell what I had for breakfast on a random Tuesday in 2018. If I wouldn’t continuously forget to take pictures of my breakfasts, of course – and if the pictures would actually ever reach them.

We’re taking more photos or videos than ever, but they’re only there for as long as your phone works, or until your laptop decides to not update an app anymore, or until the websites and apps you post them on cease to exist.

There are some languages that took archaeologists centuries to decipher – and some they still can’t. Because we forgot how to speak them. A language. My trust in the Meta server plants safeguarding my Instagram pictures is, understandably, limited.

‘You’re going to die one day and all your digital keepsakes are going to be obliterated’

The reality is: you’re going to die one day and all your digital keepsakes are going to be obliterated. You can print them out, of course, but neither paper nor ink quality is what it used to be. And it makes me sometimes wonder: is that what the Dark Ages have felt like? Not like the Dark Ages at all?

I used to be mortified about being forgotten. It felt like my memory was only useful insofar as I could share and conserve it. But the more I learn about history, ironically enough, the more comfortable I have gotten with the blank spaces that simply can’t be filled in. Forgetting is part of life. Even your own. What can you do?

And, at least for now, the picture of my beetroot salad is flying through the digital Cloud somewhere – a beacon of lunches long gone and conversations long over.

Read Antonia Leise's blogs here

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