There is a freedom that comes with faking a death. The idea of shedding one’s skin and starting over is a tempting thought. But is it actually possible in the digital age, where one’s information is out there?

Evan attempts to find the answer to this question by leaving his old life behind and adopting a new identity and presence online for a story with WIRED. Readers were notified of this and were challenged to find him. This experiment, full of suspenseful close calls, paranoia, discomfort makes for a curiously witty tale of discovery.

Episode Credits

Executive Producer: Terence Mickey

Producer: Bart Warshaw

Research and Editing Assistance: Kerrianne Thomas

Memory Motel Logo Design, Theme Song and Music Supervision: Bart Warshaw

Producer Notes

It’s good to be back after a brief hiatus, and I’m excited about the upcoming mini-series. It explores a topic at the heart of Memory Motel’s inquiry: how is our relationship to the past changed by our ability to remember everything via digital memory?

The story of my grandfather’s sanitation business took place before the internet was as much of a thing as it’s become. I had email, but I barely used it, and my grandfather’s business didn’t have any presence on the internet – no website, Facebook or Twitter accounts. He talked to his customers on the phone and advertised in the phone book or through word-of-mouth. His company had once been mentioned in the New Yorker, in a Talk of the Town piece by Ian Frazier, which you can now look up on the website and read (DECEMBER 12, 1977 ISSUE), but my grandfather kept two copies in a manilla folder on his desk. Time had darkened them, giving them the quality of heirlooms.

For me, the way we remember is artful. It makes liars and truth-seekers of us all. It asks us to weigh the significance of the moment and hold on to what matters, to trust we’ll remember what we need to when the occasion arises. To have total recall may appear attractive, a way to combat loss, to hold on to everything. But we can’t hold onto everything.

When I’m working on a story, and I don’t know what it’s about, I hold onto every possible strand. Since I don’t know what will be important or superfluous further down the line, I can’t let anything go. But as soon as I find the story, I start to decide what to keep and what to throw out, winnowing the heap down to a few essential details. When we have a story, we don’t need everything. We have our artful path back to the past.

I hope you enjoy the series. Please let me know where you stand on our Right to Oblivion in the digital age. I’d love to hear from you.

Enjoy,
Terence

Show Notes

Thanks to Evan Ratliff and Viktor Mayer-Schonberger for participating in this episode!

To read Evan’s story for Wired, click here.

Check out Evan’s podcast, The Longform Podcast, and his magazine, The Atavist.

Here’s Victor’s book, Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age on Google Books. (We recommend you read it)

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