Ephemeral Media

Getting access to my Twitter archive opened my mind to the nature on transience of the media we create.

Take, for example, this tweet and image:

Ephemeral Tweet

Well... ok... fun at the moment it was taken, but does it have any use beyond that? On the off chance that I become a subject for scholars in the year 3723, perhaps.

Should some media just be declared ephemeral? The word comes from the Greek εφήμερος – ephemeros, literally "lasting only one day".

Services like SnapChat allow you to send a message to a single recipient, the photo then expires after 10 seconds. Perfect for sending sexually charged images which then vanish into the æther.

That's how it used to be. A photograph had to be handled carefully or it would start to disintegrate.
emphemeral image

Can we do this digitally? Of course, bits rarely perish. Neither do they lose any fidelity unless we expressly ask them to. And, yes, anyone can save a pristine copy any time they want.

But, conceptually, it's very easy to create a photo sharing service where the images irreversibly degrade every time they are viewed. Until there's little left but a clump of colours.

Imagine, for a moment, that ever time a tourist glanced at the Mona Lisa and then walked idly by, a little bit of the image went with them.

Initially, she would be resplendent.
Mona Lisa 85

After a few years, she would be a bit dog-eared.
Mona Lisa 10

Eventually, she would succumb to the ravages of time.
Mona Lisa 0

We could progressively add more Instagram style filters onto an image until it was last behind a miasma of faux nostalgia.
Mona Lisa Instagram
(From Instagram "Improves" Art)

We could degrade video quality, add scratches and blemishes, reduce audio fidelity an introduce the crackle of vinyl. Text could gradually face away.

Perhaps social networks should build in The Right To Be Forgotten - make it a core feature, rather than a law to slavishly follow?

As time passes, gradually reduce the remnants of our past until they slowly fade away. Mere ghosts in the machine.


One Response to “Ephemeral Media”

  1. rachelc Image of rachelc

    I've always thought twitter was ephemeral. Yes, would have like a little longer search time than the 7 or less days, but not really interested in grabbing my history. They've always been of the moment

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