Snapchat, I’m almost sure, isn’t part of Woody Allen’s social life. I’m also pretty sure he hasn’t given it much thought. But after listening to him on discuss his policy on his own films on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ program, it turns out he can shed some light on just how disruptive SnapChat’s core feature may become to brands and the customer experience in the near future. The feature that has illuminated the idea of impermanent self-expression.
In the program, he tells Mark Lawson that he “never goes to see his old films”. After seeing them once immediately after production, that’s it. “What’s past is past. I have no interest in it” says the geeky film maker. In fact, he even actively avoids seeing them if they appear on TV and refuses to read reviews. Now, for a guy who’s as prolific as himself, writing and directing around 45 films, this must be quite a commitment. He offers his reasons; “if I look back at my own films, I only see the mistakes… I don’t wanna feel content with some I did 5 years ago”. Although these offerings are subjectively valid and probably are his reasons, I have a different interpretation of them.
“What’s past is past. I have no interest in it” were his exact words, but I don’t believe he has no interest in the past. Rather, he has no interest in re-living how he felt at that moment (or that he even likes the ability to). How he remembers his emotive response to his work, his memories and how he lived in that moment are all clearly very important to him. I’m of the opinion that his attitude is based in the sanctity of memory, and can highlight the fact that how our every action is tracked, every word is saved and response is stored online profoundly affects the way we behave and interact with each other in the digital environment.
Our memories don’t act like a recorder
This idea began to really take shape after listening to Elizabeth Loftus discuss ‘The Fiction of Memory’. She’s a psychologist who studies memory. Whenever Loftus mentions this, people start to open up about how they have difficulty remembering names. To which she must quickly explain that she doesn’t study why people forget, but rather when people remember. More importantly, she studies false memory. Like the kind that see’s innocent people accused of rape based on a victim’s testimony. Why do innocent people, who often don’t in the least bit resemble the perpetrator of the crime, get picked out of a photo lineup and are pointed to the jury later in court? and are consequently convicted. Loftus explains that “most people think memory is like a recorder. When you want to remember something, you just click play and relive that memory, this is not the case at all”.
In fact, our memories are like a Wikipedia page. They are constructed and can be reconstructed depending on our experiences and future interactions. In a digital world, however, I feel this is decreasingly the case. Our memories are becoming digitized. Everything we do is permanent, immune to reconstruction and contrary to how we operate. Digital is allowing us to communicate with the global community but how these personal engagements happen must function as they do in the real world; in an impermanent fashion. Fleeting and imperfect, with a reliance on our emotional memories and our ability to reconstruct them.
When I’m talking to my friends at work, I’m not recording that conversation. I’m in that moment engaged with them. I’m remembering how I felt and why I felt like that, and more importantly I’m creating a memory of that interaction. The next time I see those friends, I’ll rely on that emotional memory to determine how I behave, what to talk about and so on. If that conversation happened online then every word is saved in a chat box, I know that it’s been saved therefore not only do I have the emotional memory but also a rational memory. Words on a screen that I will read again, and perhaps being to rationalize those emotional memories. I also don’t feel I have to be in that moment, I can have a conversation that’s dragged out over days or maybe even weeks. How different might your views be over a few days? How you might respond to a comment one day could be radically different to how you respond on another. You are no longer in the moment. You are no longer engaging how you are meant to. You are stuck between two worlds.
My point is, you remember how you feel. Not what you said, or what the person said but how it all made you feel. Digital memories are rationalizing our emotions and affecting the way we remember our interactions.
Betrayed by screen grabs
And I have an example to prove this. On the topic of Snapchat and the screen grab, a friend said “I hate it when someone screen grabs your picture… I just feel betrayed, you know?” Why would someone feel “betrayed” if someone captured that moment? Because it goes against everything you’re trying to achieve with the app. You are trying to have a real world interaction in a digital space. These impermanent expressions of yourself in that time are not meant to be captured and relived. They are meant to be fleeting and imperfect with the intention of leaving the person with the memory of that interaction, not the evidence.
So perhaps, this could be a shift in the way in which brands behave. Maybe, in a time where brands are acting like people in order to develop a deeper emotional relationship with their consumers, brands should start engaging with their consumers in an impermanent fashion, having these fleeting relationships and leaving emotional memories of their brand. As our memories have the ability to reconstruct, then maybe all permanent brand activity afterwards acts to help a positive reconstruction. Or if brands are trying to act like people, then maybe they should engage like people engage with each other in the real world. Leaving lasting emotional memories of interactions that will never be seen again by the brand, the individual or anyone else.
Referring back to digital conversations, maybe customer service could rely on an impermanent service. If I want to talk to my brands, why can’t I send them messages that disappear after 10 minutes? If they don’t get back to me, then I know they haven’t received it and I can send it again later. Or if they have, I know they’re there in that moment ready to respond to me, and just me.
Like Woody Allen’s views, maybe what’s past should be past. Maybe having this permanent evidence of engagement is causing us to feel content with our digital engagements, not giving us the motivation to keep seeking out what these brands offer. Or even, this evidence keeps reminding us of the mistakes we all make day-to-day. Perfection is imperfect, but does all this data keep forcing us to strive for the perfect online image? When we all know the adage “we all make mistakes” is probably the most ubiquitously used self-reassurance method. Maybe we should never see our old movies. Maybe brands shouldn’t see their previous interactions with customers. Maybe that’ll ensure brands are not creating this perfect image, which we all know is impossible, and have impermanent, imperfect and fleeting relations with their consumers.
Maybe, everyone can start interacting in the digital world in a more real way.