BY: LAURA ROJAS
Professor Daniel Kahneman, a renowned psychologist and Nobel Prize winner, did a TED Talk back in 2010 on the difference between experience and memory. His main thesis, and something I hadn’t even thought about prior to watching his video, is that we now perceive the present as “an anticipated memory” – and that’s partially because of Instagram.
What exactly does that mean?
Kahneman begins his talk by explaining the difference between experience and memory. Psychologically, we have two selves: the remembering self and the experiencing self. The experiencing self lives in the present, knows the present, and is capable of reliving the past. In contrast, the remembering self is the one that “keeps score” and tracks the story of our life. Our remembering self tells us stories, and those stories are what we essentially retain from our experiences.
The experiencing self lives life continuously, experiencing moments one after the other. But those moments, (and Kahneman estimates there are about 600 million of them in each lifetime), don’t usually leave a mark on our remembering self. They’re lost forever, dissipating insignificantly into the timespan of our lives.
The remembering self picks and chooses momentous experiences, usually the ones with the most interesting endings, to keep in our inner memory archive. Everything else, like what you ate for breakfast on April 7th three years ago or that time you went to the mall in grade five, is simply forgotten. It’s a little hard to follow, but really does make sense.
So here’s where Instagram comes in.
As humans, we have a deep-seated fear that we’re wasting every moment we don’t remember. Inwardly, we believe that every moment of existence is essentially our life, and whatever we don’t remember is simply being spent carelessly.
Instagram became a tool for us to digitally mould our memories, to pick and choose the experiences we want to remember – some as uninteresting as a moment spent studying in a café, or the appetizer we had for dinner on our date. Through the use of vintage-looking photo filters, we feel nostalgic about moments as they happen, before they can even be considered nostalgic. And all of this happens subconsciously.
Kahneman believes that because of this, we’ve become accustomed to categorizing moments as memories even before they cease to be experiences. Every moment that we experience is felt as an anticipated memory instead of as a present experience. Now that’s a disturbing revelation. What happens when we become overwhelmed with the idea of having a likeable photo?
We’ve begun to physically design what each moment will feel like in future reflection. But could it be a good thing? Shots of Awe, narrated by Jason Silva, talks about Kahneman’s theory as being an opportunity to take a moment and decide how we will reflect back on it in the future.
However, the really pivotal thing is to have a balance between what you experience, and getting all that you can out of it, before archiving it as a memory to look back on. Relying on Instagram and photo-filters to remember things in one way or another seems somewhat wrong. We should rely on our own primal experiences instead, and the importance of immediacy. After all, the present is all there really is—the future and past are imagined and interpreted.
Silva stands by the fact that this phenomenon is a positive thing. It gives us a chance to decide for ourselves how we will remember the present; “We all become artists [and we all become] architects of our mental narratives for a historical, digital paper trail. We decide who we are. We’re building maps.”
Maybe internally, it really does liberate our inner desire to be artists and authors of our own lives. Silva believes that through this, we deal with the tragedy of the fact that moments are passing and time for us is not infinite.
“All we have is the anticipated memory because the present is done.”