UIs that accidentally preserve memories
May 16, 2018 1:10 PM   Subscribe

Marcin Wichary reminisces about UIs that accidentally amass memories, beginning with "the wi-fi 'preferred networks' pane – unexpected reminders of business trips, vacations, accidental detours, once frequented and now closed cafés." Examples in the ensuing twitter thread (Threadreader) include, Bluetooth pairings, weather app saved locations, Vimeo's profile photo gallery, old Mii avatars, email drafts folder, ~/.ssh/known_hosts file, and User 1's ichat logs. via
posted by not_the_water (66 comments total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
 
The worst thing about being over 50 has been cleaning out contact lists. Old friends. Family. Some I can't remove yet.
posted by bonehead at 1:12 PM on May 16 [29 favorites]


This reminded me to remove the wifi network from my ex's place from the list. Every time I opened it up and it was there it was always a rude surprise, but somehow in the moment I was always doing something else and kept just not hitting delete. Or maybe I didn't want to really think, no, my laptop and her router are never, ever getting back together.
posted by Sequence at 1:15 PM on May 16 [30 favorites]


Password recovery or 2fa questions. I've had my heart break over something a decade gone because I was asked a question I wasn't expecting.
posted by Fish Sauce at 1:15 PM on May 16 [14 favorites]


Writing too, right? Invented to keep tax records for a bureaucracy, accidentally capable of preserving all kinds of human thoughts and memories?
posted by little onion at 1:23 PM on May 16 [18 favorites]


Microsoft Word doc metadata. A few years ago I discovered that Word 97 files contain previously saved revisions in the metadata. I went back through a bunch of personal writing from the late 90s/early 00s and found all these little fragments -- partially written email drafts, notes to myself, to-do lists, a heartbreaking letter to an ex -- that I'd deleted and written over with something else.
posted by not_the_water at 1:27 PM on May 16 [11 favorites]


bonehead, I feel you.

It does get easier when your social media apps keep recommending you add your grandmother on Facebook when the Facebook username associated with the phone number she had for fifty years is Hard2BAPimp69.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:27 PM on May 16 [16 favorites]


My Facebook friend request list still shows everyone whose friend requests I've ever rejected. I never actually reject the requests I just leave them in limbo because a) that way they can't request again and b) it's much more evil.
posted by bondcliff at 1:34 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


I was literally thinking about this this morning, placing an order on Amazon and finally getting around to clearing out all of the credit cards that are no longer valid (expired / compromised and replaced / no longer used) and it asked me which billing address to use for the new credit card I just input.
posted by hanov3r at 1:40 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


I started a journal in a word processor during a time of personal crisis. It took a while before it occurred to me to replace the first page with one that's blank except a link to the bottom of the doc, so I don't have to revisit the same time of personal crisis on the regular.
posted by clavicle at 1:43 PM on May 16 [7 favorites]


My Wi-Fi password is the phone number of a landline we had in an apartment we rented 10 years ago.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:44 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Microsoft Word doc metadata. A few years ago I discovered that Word 97 files contain previously saved revisions in the metadata. I went back through a bunch of personal writing from the late 90s/early 00s and found all these little fragments -- partially written email drafts, notes to myself, to-do lists, a heartbreaking letter to an ex -- that I'd deleted and written over with something else.

Woah, every Word doc a palimpset.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:45 PM on May 16 [13 favorites]


username associated with the phone number she had for fifty years is Hard2BAPimp69.

Look at it positively...predatory telemarketers are getting a rude surprise.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 1:46 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


> Pope Guilty:
"Woah, every Word doc a palimpset."

Relatedly, I started a collection some time ago on are.na of "metadata exhaust": Word track changes showing Manafort worked on an op-ed, congressional IPs editing Wikipedia pages, John McAfee's location in Guatemala being revealed through EXIF data, and the Calibri font incriminating Nawaz Sharif.
posted by waninggibbon at 1:55 PM on May 16 [10 favorites]


My Wi-Fi password is the phone number of a landline we had in an apartment we rented 10 years ago.

my banking pin is the longest-held pager number of the guy i used to buy weed from in the 90s
posted by poffin boffin at 1:58 PM on May 16 [37 favorites]


One of our cars' Bluetooth setup had the previous owner's phone still configured.
posted by redyaky at 2:13 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Long-neglected tabs in Sublime Text. Pfooooo.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 2:42 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Also, some dude inventing (OK, inspiring) Twitter, because he posted an archive of his iChat statuses while he was working with his fellow mods in Vermont and Portland.
posted by ambrosen at 2:47 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


bonehead: The worst thing about being over 50 has been cleaning out contact lists. Old friends. Family. Some I can't remove yet.

I'm there with you - I have a prior colleague who passed at a very young age, and on one platform, their email address still comes up at the top of suggested names even though I haven't used it in more than four years. Digital ghosts for this modern era.

Related: Siimba Liives Long - Deniial Riiver ("I still hit your phone, check your Facebook page, hope to see an update but that status never change, so I still call your phone, let it ring still hear that tone, hoping that you pick up when I call, yeah I still call your phone, 'specially when I feel all alone, hoping that we get a chance to talk ... I pay the fuckin' bill on your phone, just so they don't turn it off so I can still call your phone...") That ending gets me every time, as his voice gets raw.

Anyway, more on topic: If you want to clear old Wifi passwords (or recall old passwords that are saved but you've forgotten), NirSoft's WirelessKeyView is a good Windows tool that recovers all wireless network security keys/passwords (WEP/WPA) stored in your computer by the 'Wireless Zero Configuration' service of Windows XP or by the 'WLAN AutoConfig' service of Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10, and Windows Server 2008. But because of its ability to see into "sensitive" parts of your computer, some antivirus software flags it as a threat.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:52 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


One of our cars' Bluetooth setup had the previous owner's phone still configured.

Step one of rental car: pair my phone
Step zero: delete previous renters' pairings because the pairing list is full
posted by GuyZero at 2:55 PM on May 16 [8 favorites]


The custom dictionaries that build up in your IDE/email client over the years.

From the V's:
validator
vampiric
vampirism
Vancian
Vandermeer
Ver
Vinge
Vomitous


Wait I like some of the O's too:
Olandria
ooof
orcs
Outerland
outlier
outro
oversized
ovipositors
oxycodone
posted by Balna Watya at 3:05 PM on May 16 [16 favorites]


Not quite sure whether that’s poetry or flash fiction, Balna.
posted by Segundus at 3:14 PM on May 16 [6 favorites]


I am currently going through a personally brand new version of this in that an ex/fling/friend last held my job, so I keep finding their name scattered all over the place, and I've had to do stuff like overwrite their name and info in work email sigs and slack profiles and finding their handwriting everywhere.

Thankfully it's not horrible and I'm thankfully not mired in negativity, bitterness or weirdness, but it can still be surprising and jarring.

The remembered WiFi networks can get weird, too, but I can't even count how many times that's saved my butt when I needed internet somewhere. "Oh, hey, I already have the password."

I haven't turned my cell plan on in months so my mobile life is a series of WiFi archipelagos stretching from here to Seattle and back.
posted by loquacious at 3:26 PM on May 16 [4 favorites]


My not-super-important passwords are all variations on my high school library computer password, the first random string of numbers and letters I memorized.
posted by Grandysaur at 3:32 PM on May 16


Love this concept. My dead friend's compromised or spoofed Yahoo account spams me on occasion. It doesn't bother me.
posted by Calzephyr at 3:40 PM on May 16 [6 favorites]


username associated with the phone number she had for fifty years is Hard2BAPimp69.

(Wipes away a tear) That was grandma alright. Always pimpin, even though it ain't easy.

I occasionally get a spam from a dead account formerly owned by someone who broke my heart to pieces. It tiny-kills me all over again.
posted by 1adam12 at 3:55 PM on May 16 [22 favorites]


My car’s GPS has a bank of the last (50? 100?) destinations that I typed in and while it is fun for my wife and I to scroll through memories (ah! The bank of addresses my wife and I were visiting when we were planning our wedding), it’s getting to the point now where I actually don’t want to navigate to a new place because that will purge another entry in this weird digital scrapbook of our early relationship. The oldest entry is from when I was still driving long distance to see her and is the address of a garage that I needed to get to troubleshoot a “check engine” light the day before we were scheduled to pack up her moving van to come up and live with me.
posted by bl1nk at 3:56 PM on May 16 [11 favorites]


The Apple Photos app churns away on your photo library trying to put together slide shows for you. I have no idea who thought this was a good idea. Last week it proudly showed me a new "Memory" it had made of me on honeymoon with my ex-wife, from well over ten years ago. That's when I discovered the "Delete Memory" and "Block Memory" menu options.
posted by w0mbat at 3:57 PM on May 16 [6 favorites]


Birthday reminder alerts for dead people (mostly older relatives) in my address book.

Many iChat away messages for a certain someone during a wonderful time in our lives.

The WiFi login at a house i’ll probably never see again.
posted by D.C. at 4:14 PM on May 16


my most pleasant relevant experience with this was when i recently went to edit my mefi killfile and noticed how many (terrible) people on it have long since been banned.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:19 PM on May 16 [15 favorites]


I got an old used phone from a friend. First old text that I saw: "Don't worry. The test came back negative."
posted by clawsoon at 4:22 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


My old iPhone 4 works as my alarm clock and it has a lot older saved wifi networks from forever. A bunch of ex-gfs and their home networks. Yeah, it's best I not go down this rabbit hole.
posted by Fizz at 4:22 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]






Uncommitted changes in git repos because the idea didn't end up working and I moved on to something unrelated. Then I look at the files vs. repo diff years later and get a snapshot into whatever I was thinking when I tried that idea out.
posted by scose at 5:40 PM on May 16 [6 favorites]


Oh, one of the biggies for me is Google Hangouts, still cheerfully reminding me that long lost friends are offline.

I found pages of archived chats from about 12-8 years ago. It was the start of a tough time for me, long struggles with my mental health, my drinking, and poverty. What struck me was how perky I kept sounding to the two friends I would chat with: "i applied to a new job, and I have a good feeling about this one!" "i met someone new, I think this could be something big!". I remember that I was a screaming train wreck of anxiety and depression, but I was so sure it was goiing to get better, any day now!

The tough thing is, it wasn't, not for years. This was just the beginning of a brutal decade. And I remember, through those chats and old emails. Just years of sinking realizations that no, it gets worse.

It got better, so I deleted the chats.
posted by skookumsaurus rex at 5:53 PM on May 16 [8 favorites]


I have a computer, a 386 from well before the internet as we know it, and I won't turn it on, but I can't throw it away, because of what lives on it, the words of a man I tried so hard to save, and who killed himself after writing me a letter on it. That was October 1992. I powered it off that night, and have never turned it on again, but sometimes, I go in my closet where it lives under piles of carpets and suitcases, and I just touch it. Just to say I haven't forgotten.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 6:43 PM on May 16 [37 favorites]


Reminds me of that story of the guy discovering and racing against his Dad's time trial ghost car. Also reminds me that metadata is data.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 6:52 PM on May 16 [9 favorites]


The thing described at the beginning of the OP—the list of previously-accessed networks retained by a computer or device called the "preferred network list"—doesn't have anything in particular to do with UI. Whenever your phone, for example, isn't connected to a wireless network, it can basically shout out the names of the networks you've connected to in the past constantly. (I think these broadcasts are called "association requests"?)

So you may have forgotten all this past stuff, but every wireless signal receiver you walk by gets to hear all about it all the time.

There's an Android smartphone app called WiFi Privacy Police (also on F-Droid) which tries to mitigate the amount of private information leaked this way, written by a Belgian PhD candidate. He and his collaborators wrote a paper (PDF) on the problem (summary version (PDF)) and he gave a 2014 TEDx talk. His dissertation (PDF) submitted last year has a section "What the smartphone user can do" but the measures for iOS don't seem like something non-technical people can do easily.
posted by XMLicious at 7:01 PM on May 16 [6 favorites]


The worst thing about being over 50 has been cleaning out contact lists. Old friends. Family. Some I can't remove yet.

I'm just basically never going to clear out my contact list. It's full of old addresses that no longer work, for people I no longer know, but going back through it reminds me of all kinds of phases of my life that I've forgotten. Also, if I ever need to track someone down or feel like getting back in touch, it gives me a list of potential usernames and numbers to try, which has actually come in handy more than a few times.

It's like going back through text files I used to write to myself in college, dated to-do lists that I'd keep adding to for months after that date. Sometimes it's cathartic to realize I was right all along about something. Sometimes it's frustrating to realize I knew something years ago and just put it out of my mind.

A friend of mine did an exhibit on this subject, collecting screenshots of metadata in an open call, then re-creating them in letterpress form. A lot of them are like stories half-told, glimpses into someone's personal messages. They make me want to scroll up to see the history. It's like the thing I do often, which apparently my mother also does, where I'll walk by someone and then imagine who they might be, without knowing a thing about them. My mind wants to know the rest of the story, or fill in a narrative on the basis of tiny details. It makes me think of how deceiving text can be, that on two ends of a tin can, basically, we each put words into the void and interpret what comes back, and one danger is that what we see in what comes back is really just a reflection of what we spoke into the can in the first place. It's really easy to build a castle of our own desires on the basis of nothing much at all, e.g., the text that one guy found from an old flame.

This all reminds me of some of what we discussed a couple weeks ago about things we deliberately track about ourselves. The things we don't deliberately track are just as interesting!
posted by limeonaire at 7:15 PM on May 16 [5 favorites]


The digital ghosts are around us all. The last thing my brother sent me, a week before he died, was a vaguely amusing e-mail forward about WWII as a chat log. Any intelligence agency surveilling me might well wonder why I retain a dumb e-mail joke from the better part of twenty years ago, but I can’t delete it.

Couple hundred Facebook friends. Nine are dead now. That number will only keep climbing: double digits may be a day away or a year, but it is coming.

I wonder if I will be around long enough to see it hit triple digits.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:15 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


People in the military move around a lot. When you fill out your security clearance paperwork, you have to include years of former addresses. The last time I did it, the staff guy who was helping me said, without prompting, "Hey, if you forgot any of your old addresses, just check your old Amazon orders."
posted by Etrigan at 7:26 PM on May 16 [13 favorites]


My Netflix viewing history is interesting to look through. I can tell when I was sick and/or depressed.

Facebook has a history of everyone you've ever blocked, even if you later unblocked them.
posted by AFABulous at 7:43 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


~/.bash_history
posted by invitapriore at 7:44 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


A lot of my internet account usernames incorporate the name of the dog I had 15 years ago, and a lot of their user icons are pictures of the dog I had 7 years ago.
posted by moonmilk at 8:12 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


An elderly relative who lost an adult child regularly gets those handy Facebook happy memories notifications of her and the child. It's even odds whether it'll be a bittersweet memory (the last birthday party together) or a hideous post-chemo photo. It can be tough, especially for an elderly person who thinks that there is some sort of intelligence or care behind those friendly reminders.
posted by tavegyl at 8:20 PM on May 16 [4 favorites]


My Netflix viewing history is interesting to look through. I can tell when I was sick and/or depressed.

My Netflix viewing history (and suggestions list) has been blighted by Christmas when a bunch of toddlers used my account to watch and rewatch every episode of Princess Tinselsparkle or whatever, in all its many variations. They aren't even my memories as I was away over Christmas.
posted by tavegyl at 8:24 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


When AIM finally went dead last year, I saved the list of screen names. I was a teen during AIM's heyday, and it turned out I wasn't quite ready to give up the rush of memories that came from scanning the list. It was 80 or so people - close friends to crushes to one-time acquaintances - all encapsulated there. I think the logs are around somewhere, too.
posted by scottcal at 8:32 PM on May 16 [5 favorites]


My Netflix viewing history is interesting to look through. I can tell when I was sick and/or depressed.

I similarly made my grandmother a Netflix profile (thanks, AskMe!) that she never got to use that I also can't bring myself to delete. Why do we feel this stuff so deeply?!?!?!
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:32 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


I have curated music playlists that I'd build up over the course of weeks or even months from the early to mid 2000s that would get to be thousands of tracks long. I can just read the order of the track titles to go back in time and remember what was going on in life at the time.
posted by Candleman at 9:38 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


I used to keep around old bill payees in my online banking. There were electric bill accounts for places I no longer lived, cell phone accounts for providers I no longer used, corporate credit cards for jobs I no longer had. Only after accidentally paying money to a long-dead credit card (it took 2 months and back-and-forth calls to two banks to get my money back) did I clean this up.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:48 PM on May 16


Full circle: Marcin Wichary has acknowledged this thread.
Marcin Wichary
‏@mwichary
Always so much joy and pride when something you make gets onto MetaFilter.

…and many wonderful examples inside. “I occasionally get a spam from a dead account formerly owned by someone who broke my heart to pieces. It tiny-kills me all over again.”
posted by waninggibbon at 10:22 PM on May 16 [11 favorites]


it can basically shout out the names of the networks you've connected to in the past constantly

oh my god like your mom standing at the fridge shouting all the foods you've ever enjoyed in your entire life just in case you're hungry for one of them RIGHT NOW
posted by poffin boffin at 12:09 AM on May 17 [5 favorites]


An elderly relative who lost an adult child regularly gets those handy Facebook happy memories notifications of her and the child.

In a similar vein, until I got my late mother's Facebook account memorialized which apparently I am the only one in the family tech-savvy and motivated enough to do even though it would have been much more convenient for them because I now live four and a half thousand miles away but never mind, I used to get regular chirpy reminders about "It's your mom's birthday!" and "Say hello to Mom on Mother's Day!" and "Maybe your mother would like to play Words With Friends!".

It was like water torture, but with grief.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:22 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


"as I look back at my Amazon purchases, now twenty years in, is that it wasn't until 2006 that I bought something there that wasn't a book"
posted by kliuless at 2:11 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


The worst thing about being over 50 has been cleaning out contact lists. Old friends. Family. Some I can't remove yet.

Even worse at over 50, receiving spam message from the contact who'd passed on a few years ago, and still not being able to block "them".
posted by infini at 2:19 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


also noting this change in our FPPs, this is the second one made of a twitter thread, which makes me more confident of putting one up sometime
posted by infini at 2:30 AM on May 17


Password recovery or 2fa questions. I've had my heart break over something a decade gone because I was asked a question I wasn't expecting.
Reminds me of a time when customer service reps were allowed to be human.
I was trying to access a phone account which was a few years old.

CSR: Can you confirm your secret word, please?

A couple of failed attempts later

ME: Oh! *whispers* Is it [REDACTED]?
CSR: I take it from your whispering that someone who is not [REDACTED] is in the room with you
ME: That would be correct
CSR: I hope it ended well with [REDACTED].
ME: She ripped my heart out of my arse actually
CSR: *laughs* Well, let's get that changed then shall we?

I also now realise that NOT[REDACTED] has become [REDACTED] and I will dance this dance again at some point.
posted by fullerine at 3:57 AM on May 17 [24 favorites]


A close friend committed suicide, this was back in 2004. I had used to chat with him in AIM, every day. After he died, his name was still there, he was logged on. I couldn't turn my computer off and leave him alone, so I left my computer on. For two months.

The day I was sitting at my computer and his name winked out, I cried. I am tearing up now to think of it. There was a strange finality about it.
posted by elizilla at 5:13 AM on May 17 [16 favorites]


A friend of mine requested FB to delete her account if she died, so they did. They also wiped every message she sent. If I open the conversation now it's 8 years of me and blank spaces. Including the message she sent shortly before taking her own life. I don't think that's right.

This broke my heart.
posted by divabat at 6:09 AM on May 17 [6 favorites]


I'm on my second Facebook account and have had Twitter purges every so often (because of their account follow limits), but LinkedIn ends up being this kind of memory lane for me. For some reason it primarily recommends that I add people involved in the kinds of things in the places I was a decade or more ago, rather than anything more contemporary, so it's like a snapshot of what could have been if I kept on with all of those old life pathways.

Goodreads is also a similar memory lane - there's a bunch of books there I never quite finished reading but which Goodreads tracks because it's synced to my Kindle. (Ooh boy my Kindle. SO SO MANY articles saved on there that I haven't gotten to reading. So may PDFs. I haven't looked at my Pocket in years.)

Somewhat relatedly, I was thinking recently of resetting my Pinterest and Amazon Wishlist accounts. I've accumulated a LOT, but my tastes have changed, and while I don't want to completely lose everything I also don't want to have to go through and edit them all individually.
posted by divabat at 6:13 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


I fired up "top" on a work computer once and found that Christopher Reeve was still logged in remotely even though he was dead.
posted by clawsoon at 6:16 AM on May 17


Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of my FiL's death, so this morning I posted a happy picture of him today to try and pre-empt whatever Worst Possible Scenario will be dredged up by Facebook's algorithms.

Facebook, of course, automatically tagged the post as me being "with" him, which I won't be until we meet again in the sweet by-and-by. Thanks a lot, Zuck.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:16 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


See also: searching for 'IMG_0001.JPG' on Flickr/Google to see what the first photo someone took with their digital camera was.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:18 AM on May 17 [10 favorites]


The thing about getting spam from someone's dead account... I still get spam from the abandoned Yahoo! account of a former boss who emotionally abused me for months, totally put me through the wringer in terms of having to document everything I did, then finally got his way when I was let go. I hate him and would likely have a strong desire to want to punch him if I saw him. It's so jarring every time I see his name in spam. And yet it's so typical of that dude just to let something digital go to shit like that, to not bother cleaning up that mess and let spammers have their way with his address book. Ugh, fuck that guy.

Spam feelings! Metadata feelings!
posted by limeonaire at 10:58 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


My Wi-Fi password is the phone number of a landline we had in an apartment we rented 10 years ago.

My MeFi password (2001) is an expansion of the 2nd ATM password I ever had (1992), chosen as a result of the band I was listening to on my Walkman when I walked over to college student center to set up my account. I had just transferred schools, moved to Boston, and it was one of those glorious New England fall days. I was feeling good and really hopeful.

Anyhow, most things didn't really work out there, and I know it's shitty password management, but for some reason I've never been able to bring myself to change it.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:54 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Keychain access. I’ve migrated all my user data since I upgraded my Cube to Mac OS 10.2. I recently discovered I had an (unused) MySpace account. It’s a pretty handy long-term password vault, actually. So many phpBB sites lost to the sands of time...

And yeah, email from dead friends that I just can’t delete. My children will have to do that when I go.

I tend to add whatever city I’m in to my weather app on my phone, so I keep up with current temps in Port Angeles, Denver, Liverpool, Portland, Del Río (closest station to the cave preserve), Melbourne, Boston, Albuquerque, Fort Davis. The weather is invariably nicer in all those places whenever I look, except Liverpool. But I’d go back - I’m a San Franciscan by birth. Can’t check the weather there, or I just get the sads.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:56 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


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