Jess Kimball interviewed me for the Tribeca Film Festival web site — a rollicking and wide-ranging Q&A talking about webcam shots, Sherlock, the cognitive value of pencils, and novels written on 12-button mobile phones. It’s really a blast, and begins with us discussing the modern art of managing memory: Which pictures do we save, and which do we delete?
Jess Kimball: So how are we learning to forget thus far?
Clive Thompson: Some of it might be active acts of saying, “I don’t want all this stuff.” We’re seeing that already with SnapChat. If you talk to people who use SnapChat, they’ll give you a couple reasons why they like it. One idea is that it’s evanescent: the photos aren’t being stored, so they are more conversational, more fun, and people feel more free to just do silly, stupid things.
Secondarily, people like the idea of not clogging their phone with lots of photos because the SnapChat photos aren’t saved. People could do like 30 SnapChats a day but after a month, they weren’t going to have to go through this onerous task of going, “All right. My phone’s full. What am I going to get rid of?” That turns out to be an emotionally difficult moment. When you think about photos, it’s a really funny thing because up until now, within our entire 200 year photography experiment, we only took a photo when we wanted to preserve it.
Jess Kimball: And now part of photography’s purpose has shifted.
Clive Thompson: Now that a photo can be sent in the moment to just say, “Here’s what I’m doing,” it can become a communication act that’s completely separate from the act of archiving and saving. It’s taking us a long time to decouple the photo as an expressive act from the photo as a permanent archive.