On making it difficult to delete an account - An emotional state

In one instance I learned that my personal data had been accessed—and was possibly being used—in more nefarious ways. The company Minted sent repeated warnings that our wedding website would expire in 2020. I was too tired to go through the motions of taking it down, so I let the subscription run its natural course. A month after letting the wedding website expire, I received notice of a data breach: My login, password, phone number, and address had been obtained and were floating around the internet. Cool.

On the internet not pausing for you

The internet is clever, but it’s not always smart. It’s personalized, but not personal. It lures you in with a timeline, then fucks with your concept of time. It doesn’t know or care whether you actually had a miscarriage, got married, moved out, or bought the sneakers. It takes those sneakers and runs with whatever signals you’ve given it, and good luck catching up.

On Timehop app and memories

When I called up Jonathan Wegener during the final days of 2020 to talk about Timehop and the earliest forms of automated memories, something crystallized. I wanted to know if he had any regrets. Wegener still sees Timehop’s core feature as a net positive—a kind of yardstick for personal progress, a welcome remembrance of the brunch he had with a fellow techie who later became his company’s first investor. That’s his experience with “memories.” But he is also aware that not everyone’s memories are as carefree. His own sister declared the app unusable after going through a divorce years ago. And to help her, Wegener had asked his backend engineers to delete all of her memories from before 2013. This was so she didn’t have to “relive that section of her life every day.” He also told me that they had deleted it all—check-ins from Mother’s Day brunches, photos with family, and events that had absolutely nothing to do with her ex. It was, as Wegener called it, a sledgehammer solution, rather than chiseling away at the problem. “We weren’t selective, you know? It wasn’t Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” he said, the de facto film reference for post-breakup lobotomies. This, I suddenly realized, was the thing I had been trying to avoid this whole time: the total obliteration of my memories.

Lauren Goode's closing statement and desire

Memories in photo apps should be an option, not a requirement, and they shouldn’t be activated by default. Apps should stop monetizing those memories, directly or otherwise. Algorithms should be more refined, so we’re not trailed by events we’d rather leave behind or nudged into experiences that we don’t really want. Timelines should actually consider the passage of time. I want a chisel, not a sledgehammer, with which to delete what I no longer need. I don’t want to have to empty my photo albums just because tech companies decided to make them “smart” and create an infinite loop of grief. That feels like a fast path to emotional bankruptcy, a way to “rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should,” as the writer André Aciman put it. “To feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste.” There it is: What a waste. Not wasted time, even if that is also true; that would be too cynical. A waste of potential joy. Because buried within those 16,000 photos, there is an egg fossilized in a floral dish. In the taxonomy of memory themes, it is an unremarkable photo of food. In my actual memory, it’s a photo from the morning I decided on a different path for the future. A different kind of joy. I just didn’t know it at the time. The path won’t be linear. It never was. But we as humans are remarkably good at hatching new worlds from the tiniest pixels. We have to be.

Nick Ng