It was December 2015, when I – in my very questionable wisdom – ended my second romantic relationship, shortly before Christmas.
Needless to say, I was distraught. An absolute mess with a hole in his heart.
For me, the first step forward was to take several leaps back.
Writing for PCWorld in January 2011, Jason Kennedy interviewed Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell about his book Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything. In the book, Bell describes methods through which a person can create an electronic database of his or her life by recording GPS data, social media and text messages, phone call logs, pictures and more.
The end result is digital record of the past with a level of detail that human memory simply can’t match.
I’ve practiced this concept of E-Memory since middle school, when I read another article in PCWorld about one man’s efforts to video document his life since the 1980s.
By the beginning of my freshman year of high school, I had documented nearly an entire 8thgrade year through an array of photographs, school assignments, yearbook signatures and personal essays.
It was searchable too: did I want to see a picture of my first girlfriend? Type in her name, and up she comes, spread across love letters and anniversary pictures. Essays on global warming from science class? You got it. My grades for each nine-week period? It’s there. Text messages, Facebook conversations and wall posts, video recordings and even financial data were added to the mix as time went on.
However, during the first few years of this effort, the database didn’t appear to be particularly useful. Its contents were simply too fresh – not enough time had transpired between the present and the date the events occurred.
But during those cold December nights following the break-up, its contents provided insight not only into how I’ve changed as a person, but also into the consequences of decisions I’ve made.
As I pored over e-mails, pictures, text messages and personal reflections from years past, I found myself re-evaluating all of my relationships and interactions with others, my self-worth, my aspirations and my personal strengths and weaknesses.
Some of the findings were good, and some were bad. Alongside scholastic accomplishments whom few could shake a stick at and a few friendships that were undoubtedly strong, I found moments where I annoyed and lied to some and insulted and gave up too quickly on others.
Repeatedly, I said to myself, “what was I thinking?”
I cried for days. Partly because I’d lost a friend and a lover and partly because I’d undergone a self-inflicted re-evaluation of my entire persona wrought through cold, hard facts from my past. These facts were seen through fresh and much more mature eyes than the time period they occurred in, occasionally producing an intolerable sense of regret that rocked me to my core.
I beat myself up for a lot of my mistakes. But as I continued to look through it all, I found that I rarely made the same mistake twice. The realization convinced me that despite some screw-ups, I really had been growing up as a person throughout all this time. I really could look forward to new trials and tribulations in the future that wouldn’t be besmirched by the same follies as before.
Additionally, I was happy at the fact that the personal database I’d been working on for so long was indeed a gold mine. A valuable tool to my self-development that would only become more valuable as time went on.
Even moments that in their time appeared senseless and silly became formative teaching moments in hindsight.
Almost a year later, I’m at a much better place in my life. I’ve been through the wringer of an extended period of injurious introspection and I’ve come out of it winning, as a newly aware and much more emotional individual than I was going in.
Looking back on the past didn’t prolong my sadness. Rather, it made it worthwhile, transforming it from a momentary reaction to a crappy situation, to an opportunity for personal growth.
My recommendation is aimed at those who wish to live a smarter and deeper life through a comprehensive use of 21st century technology. I urge you to consider practicing a documented life through E-Memory. The value of doing so can be incredible, and all it takes a little bit of technological know-how in order to set it up and a little bit of willingness to keep it up as the years go by.