A few days ago I discovered this nifty little service called TimeHop. It’s good at doing one thing really well – reminding you what you were up to exactly one year ago today.
How does it work? You set up an account, connect it to your social networks of choice (currently Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram are the only options) and each day you receive an email that summarizes your one-year-ago activity.
Why is this interesting to a human being? The only word to describe what I feel when I receive my daily TimeHop is delight. It’s an uncomfortable word for me, so I use it sparingly. I’m delighted by very few things, mostly pictures of Corgis dressed as lobsters. My first TimeHop reminder told me I was at Bruegger’s on Ingersoll a year ago. I’ve only been there once, and it was the day I picked up bagels for an 8:00 am client meeting with Kemin Personal Care. This one detail triggered a series of other memories about that same day, which I’d completely forgotten about. Conversations I had. People I ran into. Other things that were happening in the world.
TimeHop is helping me build and extend my offboard brain. I’ll have you know that I’ve actually been working on my offboard brain for years. Every email I’ve sent or received since 2006 is stored in my Gmail account. That sounds insane, but all of those conversations are searchable, which reduces my need to actually remember the full context of most things. This frees up my physical brain to concentrate on more important tasks, like stressing out over whether the Megatron and Galvatron Wikipedia entries should be merged or not.
In all seriousness, we humans leave a lot of ephemeral data behind on social networks, wrapped around activities that may seem mundane at the time. (Warren Ellis called this landfill of ones and zeroes the “data shadow” back in 2006.) Tweeting that you ate a sandwich – when combined with location data and the context of everything else your experienced that day – suddenly becomes more interesting. It’s interesting because human brains didn’t evolve to catalog every single detail of our lives, and now we can start unlocking some of that.
TimeHop aligns well with another trend I’m seeing, which is our need to back-fill our Facebook Timelines. We’re fascinated by our past because we barrel through life taking so many experiences and moments for granted. Now we have the tools to start organizing, beyond a dusty box of old photos.
(Oh yeah, The Des Moines Register’s Sarah Day Owen posted about TimeHop today too!)