Eerily reminiscent of the movie, corporations are now pitching the ability to ‘erase’ bad memories for eternal sunshine.
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” (Trailer.Screegrab/Courtesy of Focus Features)
Apple just put out an ad that shows an iPad turning memories into perfect memories, which is to say memories without suffering. Are you leading a perfect life? Of course not—but you can do photo editing to remove the imperfections. In the brief ad, we see a woman erasing a man from her photos. Will Apple also erase her from his?
There’s a story implied in the ad, but it’s not something we’re supposed to talk about. Boy and girl were once happy hipsters snapping ridiculous photos tailored for Instagram. They were advertising spontaneous happiness for the sake of social media, living the “hashtag blessed” life. Maybe if they made themselves seem happy together, they would be happy! Obviously, that wasn’t a good way to pursue love.
When it all fails, the question is, how do you deal with your past? For Apple, that means wiping out your memories. Your failures, your suffering, your mistakes—it can all go away with a simple editing tool. Of course, human memories don’t simply vanish, but machine memory can be easily controlled, created, and deleted—machines do not cry or feel the shame, guilt, or fear that past failures engender.
We all want to forget our shame. Get past problems. Move on with life. Maybe with technology we can find new beginnings, become new ourselves! That was the theme of the Oscar-winning movie “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” back in 2004, when new technology still seemed absolutely miraculous. Just like the Apple ad, “Eternal Sunshine” was about forgetting love, because ultimately it runs deep and can feel humiliatingly personal.
Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey play a manic-depressive pixie dream girl and her admirer respectively. Unlike the normie happiness Apple advertises, the Michel Gondry movie is about weirdos, social misfits who are lonely, find it hard to deal with other people, and fear they will never have real adult lives. They’re haunted by the weakness they experienced as children because they still experience it as adult insecurity.
The two fall in love and live charmed lives until their issues begin to take their toll. The banality of life hits hard when you expect love to create another magical world for you and another magical you to inhabit it. So they begin to make each other miserable and end up erasing each other from their memories by technological means. It’s revenge of the simplest kind—pretending you never had hopes to be dashed in the first place.
That may have been Hollywood fantasy 16 years ago, but it’s real life in the age of social media. People live their lives online. They try to be special, to get attention, only to fearfully delete their online past if it does not measure up to the changing standards. They impersonate idols, then self-destruct.
In the movie, we see adults playing what are essentially teenagers—well, that fits our reality, too. Offline, adults succeed by heeding institutional rules and norms of school, work, and society. Online, we become teens again, playing games and finding some way to make life worthwhile in the shadow of our own mortality. We are desperate to be loved for who we are, but at the same time we also desire to become what someone else will love. These desires are natural, of course, but in our time they are out of control.
Social media has taken things to an entirely new level. We have built a new machine memory that presents us to the world and records our existence moment by moment, because we fear to forget ourselves as much as we fear to be forgotten, or never even noticed in the first place.
It’s not an accident that we turn to social media above all for love. We want to be liked on Facebook and hearted on Twitter. These corporations forbid disliking. You can make a heart on social media but never break a heart. Supposedly, we all desire the same things, to become the same and finally stop feeling neglected—that’s why we have numbers to quantify popularity and make us participate in it—you and I together, units in an incomprehensibly larger mass.
But of course Twitter is full of hatred and Facebook is supposedly stealing elections! So now liberals want to control those platforms, to purge everyone with whom they disagree. Now here comes Apple encouraging the same purging of memory on a personal level: ghosting becomes corporate ideology.
Apple is now using its advertising to try to lure people into thinking that destroying their identities is the path to happiness, that erasing stolen digital moments can obliterate an entire relationship and the memories that accompany it. But even the most perfectly curated device can’t create a life of eternal sunshine, or for that matter, a spotless heart. Those who think so have already lost the wherewithal to cope with reality when it comes knocking. We can’t all be pixies and Peter Pans forever.
Titus Techera is the executive director of the American Cinema Foundation and a contributor to National Review, The Federalist, Law & Liberty, and Modern Age.