A few years back I channel surfed onto an odd little movie with big ideas. It was called “My Dinner with Andre”. The character who plays Wally (the person having dinner with Andre) would go on to play the villain from “The Princess Bride” so I guess that is what initially grabbed my attention. The entire film takes place in a restaurant, except the last thirty seconds, where Wally delivers this internal monologue:
Wally: “I treated myself to a taxi. I rode home through the city streets. There wasn’t a street, there wasn’t a building, that wasn’t connected to some memory in my mind. There, I was buying a suit with my father. There, I was having an ice cream soda after school. And when I finally came in, Debbie was home from work, and I told her everything about my dinner with Andre.”
Its a line that seems to link us to our surroundings. Memories happen in a physical location. Our experiences are tied to a place and a time. We try to hold onto these memories, as the places change. Memories we think might be interesting to an audience are shared, the rest we keep to ourselves or possibly forget. Our collective memories, give our social groups an identity. This is the inspiration of the “City of Memories” project. Its goal is to make personal experiences linked to location public for all to see. User submited stories are plotted onto a map of the New York. There is a hope that sharing the experience of urban life will foster a closer and richer community.
In the compilation “Letting Go?, Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated world” we are introduced to the curator of this digital humanities project, Steven Zeitlin. His struggle as curator is evident in the piece. “Letting Go” refers to the a curator’s philosophy in accepting and editing user-generated content. Zeitlin takes a heavy role in this, eliminating or simply not posting what is deemed irrelevant or without substance. Much of this is without controversy. For example, a one sentence story about finding a cat seems irrelevant and a good candidate for deletion. Not every memory needs to be shared. Who are these people that sharing the stories that are “less than impressive”. Where does this urge to post insignificance come from. Are these the same people who tell less impressive stories at cocktail parties that don’t go any where? Do they never get the hint? For some it is just not enough to keep these connections to themselves.
Our always consuming culture has found its place in the user generated content model of the internet. You can go to Yelp to find out where someone had the best brunch in their life. You can log onto tripadvisor to get someone’s experiences at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But alas, these are not experiences, these are sales pitches. Stories with one purpose, convincing the user to go (or not go) to a place. City of Memories offers an alternative. There are no sales pitches in these stories, just a declaration that something interesting had occurred in this certain spot at this certain time. There is no promise that anything will happen if you go there, but you never know.