There’s something magical about unearthing a box of memories hidden for years under pixel dust, forgotten passwords, and the shadow of a blue monster that usurped a once-popular teen hangout. When I received an email from Myspace reminding me to reset my password, the memories came flooding back, along with the realization that what we share and who we share it with may be stored forever in servers differently than it is in our heads.
Myspace credentials hit the internet last month when someone published upwards of 427 million passwords and 360 million emails in a database leak. So when I updated my information per the company’s warning, it was the first time in years I considered revisiting my old Myspace account.
Thanks to the person who published the leaked Myspace data, I reminisced on photos and songs that took me back a decade.
I found my grinning face smushed up among people I hadn’t talked to in ages, alongside a friends list of people I forgot even existed. I discovered photos from high school football games with shirts cut in ridiculous patterns, prom photo bombs, an ex-boyfriend in a photo I forgot was digital, along with old vacations, Halloween costumes, and happiness.
The most startling thing about the treasure trove of information I found hidden for so long was not my dorky high school graduation photos or the clearly inappropriate underage drinking—it was that happiness.
A couple hundred photos stared back at me, and as I scrolled horizontally through all the cheek kisses and terrible sunglasses, I saw a teenager I didn’t really remember. Everything I felt about my formative years was mostly frustrating: High school was not a positive time for me. As I’ve written before, I was bullied online and off for physical differences; I had to mostly give up the sport I loved because surgery turned my spine into metal. And my friendships, I thought, were always fleeting.
Myspace showed me a teenage experience completely different from the pictures I store in my brain. I didn’t see any photos of the time I cried on the curb after a particularly tough day. No photos of the horrific temporary dye-job that forced me to wear a hat for two weeks. Nothing about the crushes that broke my heart on a regular basis.
As my friend and colleague Gavia said, the photos looked like the credits roll of a Disney teen television show.
Preserved in digital amber long after I moved on to Facebook, this Myspace time capsule is no different than what hung on the cluttered bulletin board throughout my teenage life; a collection of photographs chosen from the beautiful, perfect moments I captured. And tore up when a friend broke my heart.
Today, Myspace is like our faded yearbooks and the notes we wrote in the back of them. Promises to call one another over the summer and to keep in touch on new cell phones with text capabilities our parents abhorred and we overused.
It’s the letters we sent out each holiday season praising our personal and professional accomplishments, smiling faces in front of a desert cactus, freezing the brief moments of smiling civility just long enough for the camera to snap it before retreating back to bickering or formidable silence.
Pruning our public lives is not unique to social media, and at this point it’s expected. Why do we fault our friends and relatives for displaying self-selected photos and stories? Why do we chastise the medium that’s allowed us to craft a narrative so often fundamentally different than the one we experience each day?
Facebook is criticized for its “On This Day” feature, a blast of nostalgia that appears on the service we pour our words, photos, and information into. Facebook is intimately more knowledgeable about our personal lives than many of the people we’re friends with. Perhaps what’s so off-putting about Facebook’s reminders are that we’re still here; we’re still making memories.
When I share something to social media, I rarely consider time beyond the present moment. It is who I am, where I am, who I am with, and what I think now. I rarely stop to consider who I will be in the future, and what this digital scribbling will mean to me when I forgot I posted it.
On Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat, we’re ourselves as we are now, not how we were then. And though the enormous repository of data could remind us how we used to be, rarely do we actively seek it out.
I’m so far removed from Myspace that seeing my ignorant, silly, pockmarked face did not remind me of anything beyond the fact that perhaps my own memories forgot to be honest with themselves. Forgot that I was loved by friends, even those who I had falling-outs with. That I made bad decisions that wound up hurting, but similar bad decisions took me on thrilling adventures. And that I was more than a sullen teen with an eating disorder.
Maybe the assumption of self-selection for positive experiences on social media is in part due to how negative ones take up more space in our brains. Research shows that people remember negative events better and more often than positive ones. The late Clifford Nass, a professor at Stanford University, explained this phenomenon to the New York Times: “This is a general tendency for everyone,” he said. “Some people do have a more positive outlook, but almost everyone remembers negative things more strongly and in more detail.”
It was easy to share positive things on Myspace, because I did have genuinely positive experiences: Smiles, homecomings, late nights with older friends, working too much, dancing too much, and embracing and overcoming the flaws of adolescence.
It’s hard to imagine what I will see when I look back on Facebook, because I’m still cataloging memories there. Instagram, too, captures just snippets of my life, and, for the most part, I try to keep things positive. Yes, on social media, I have pretended that my life experiences are more positive than the authentic daily grind. But is it always pretending if those experiences are true, just not a complete picture of who I am as a person?
Myspace gave me a little digital present. And it made me stop and think about what I share on social sites now, and how honest I am with myself both online and off. I am okay mostly sharing positive things, and keeping “real” moments private with friends. I’ll always remember the real bits. It’s those curated experiences I might struggle to remember later.
But luckily they’re all preserved for me, right where I left them.