We’re suffering from cultural alzheimer.
As more and more of our memories and lives gets uploaded to the virtual cloud, we’re starting to become more forgetful.
If it doesn’t exist online, it doesn’t exist at all.
It’s as if hundreds and thousands years of human history has been completely wiped out.
What exists is a very tiny silver of the present.
Which is ironic since the Internet is supposed to be a vast repository of human knowledge.
I see this cultural alzheimer in action every day at work (I’m in social media). Our ideas, if I can even call them ideas, are shaped and buffeted by the the nature of our work. What’s new? What’s trending? What’s cool this moment?
Nearly every month, Facebook is rolling out or tweaking a new content format. Every day we share new thing that a particular brand did on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube or Snapchat or other social media platforms that are constantly popping up.
But in the chase for the now and newness, our knowledge becomes increasingly limited. The wellspring only goes as deep as 2 to 3 years ago. At the max, probably 5 years.
The result is a stagnant puddle of sameness, of repetitiveness.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”—George Santayana
It’s in our nature to have a short memory span. But technology and social media is exacerbating our forgetfulness.
Take for example one mainstream social media trend, the flatlay. If you don’t know what a flatlay is, it’s basically an Instagram trend where you post a picture from an aerial view:
Image taken from Instagram account @flatlays
The flatlay fits Instagram’s aesthetic. Clean, confined to square boundaries, it’s allows the user to take in the image in one glance before scrolling on to the next image. As a result, flatlays are immensely popular on Instagram. Multiple brands who have a presence on Instagram have done flatlays.
But the flatlay, in one iteration or another, has been around far longer. I used to think that flatlays originated from Instagram. But I forgot that the camera has been around for more than 200 years. More likely that not, some ur-hipster was already doing flatlays before Instagram was around.
In fact a typographer by the name of Dave Wakefield did a series of flatlays for Knorr chicken stock cubes back in the 1980’s:
You can check out more of his work here
Apart from its non-square dimension, if I posted this on Instagram it’ll definitely within the flatlay aesthetics. Yet this image predated Instagram by more than 20 years.
Going back further, Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel can be considered as flatlays too. The only difference is that you need to crank your head upwards instead of downwards:
The fact that I thought flatlays could only come from Instagram demonstrates a sort of arrogance. As if our past ancestors were incapable of coming up with such thoughts. This technological arrogance, combined with our short memory spans, blind us to the past.
Only the present and future matters.
Yet we don’t realise that our wellspring is drying up, that hundreds and thousands years of human history is turning into dust, literally and figuratively. And every day we’re constantly drawing upon a more and more limited source.
What happens when that source dries up?
Will technology save us?