A Trip Down Social Media’s Memory Lane Uncovers Emotions
IN THE TUMULTUOUS and tiresome run-up to the last presidential election, I became fatigued from the uncivil discourse on social media, and especially on Facebook. Additionally, I worried enormously about Facebook’s lack of a coordinated response to rampant misinformation. Yeah, yeah, welcome to the club, Jacobs. OK, so not a unique set of feelings—but these fears struck me hard enough to swear off Facebook. After a dozen-plus years on the platform, I said, “Enough.”
Or, I sort of said, “Enough.” I had more than a decade of pictures stored on Facebook’s servers, and I knew I wanted many of them. That said, I was too lazy to find a way to bulk download them—I know, I work in the tech industry, and I should have looked for a tech solution. What I did instead was commit to not posting anything on the platform and not spending any time peering at my so-called friends’ so-called lives. I would look at the “Memories” section every day and download the photos I wanted. It was a one-day-at-a-time sort of solution and I figured that would both get me the images I wanted and slowly disentangle my brain from Facebook.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. In looking at the photos, my brain started surfacing names of friends and seemingly random ideas. I was remembering all the folks that had commented on the images, but rarely exactly what they said. As I looked at the photos, it turned out the comments were as entrancing as my memories of trips to Cambodia, Costa Rica, and New Zealand; the so-dumb-it-is-actually-witty banter with a dear—and now sadly departed—friend was as much a draw as the images of random things spotted at bars, mural-covered alleys, or convention centers. A real example: In 2018, I posted a photo of a creepy disembodied silicone torso wedged into a machine that was labeled “Hands-only CPR,” presumably designed to help people learn CPR. Sample wise-guy friend comment: “I wanted to play this game but couldn’t figure out where to insert the quarter.” Har har har.
This quirk of memory that allowed me to recall that Brian cracked wise on this photo (without remembering what he said), but Robert started a whole serious discussion on that one (without remembering what the discussion was about), really stood out to me. It reminded me of the widely circulated Maya Angelou quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The contents of the comments had been lost to me, but the how-they-made-me-feel and who made me feel that way had wedged themselves deeply into my cranium.
This persistence of emotion is not confined to social media posts, of course. Forrester has published research showing that designing experiences in which customers feel respected, valued, appreciated, or confident drives retention, enrichment, and advocacy. You know, real business results that the C-suite and investors care about. But that research could read as dry and academic advice to some. So to prove the tenacity of emotions, copy my experience as a first-person experiment. If you’ve got a long history on platforms like Facebook or Instagram, go back and look at some of your old posts and see if you can summon up whether your friends commented, which ones commented, and how the discussion felt. And then reclaim your life and get off those platforms. Just kidding. Sort of.
Ian Jacobs is a vice president and research director at Forrester Research.