Viewing life through Venmo

Feb. 27, 2017, 7:35 a.m.

Recently, I was cleaning out my email inbox and realized that for no particularly good reason, I had kept all the emails Venmo had ever sent me about transactions I’d completed using the app.

Scrolling through the folder in my email entitled “Venmo,” I quickly began to feel oddly nostalgic. That was such a fun dinner, I thought, or I completely forgot I saw that play with my roommate, or Wow, I can’t believe I actually spent that much money on one meal. 

I first got a Venmo account at the very beginning of my freshman year of college, when I was informed by an upperclassman that Venmo was a must-have. So, my Venmo transactions are a kind of diary of my social life thus far at Stanford.

All of a sudden, I was flooded with vivid memories of events I’d forgotten I’d attended, reminded of obscure conversations with dorm friends over delicious burgers, taken back to awkward getting-to-know-you meals in Palo Alto at the beginning of the year. It was cool to see how my social sphere had slowly expanded since September 2016 (when my transactions documented only outings with high school friends) to now, to see an actual date and time when a particular person at Stanford came into my life.

I have always loved documenting my life, and have kept journals for as far back as I can remember, partially motivated by my fear of somehow forgetting important moments and conversations. My memories of meaningful experiences are like my proof that I’ve existed and lived life in a singular way. The logical solution to making sure I never lost these moments, then, was to record my life as best I could, to write down interactions and experiences that were particularly meaningful to ensure that they were never truly forgotten.

When I arrived at college, my journaling tendencies sadly took a backseat to Stanford academics, and I began to write less and less frequently. To me, this was anxiety-inducing, because it meant that while I was having lots of new and exciting experiences, I was worried that I would soon forget them. But recently, I’ve come to realize that while our modern, fast-paced world might discourage me from blocking out time each day to physically sit and write, it provides me with other ways of documenting my life.

My Venmo records were one example of this, but our technological world affords many methods of keeping a record of our everyday lives. Obviously, there are social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that do a pretty good job of allowing us to keep track of our everyday activities. Facebook even creates videos that allow us to look at our “Year in Review,” and our Instagram accounts provide a pretty good representation of moments we found important enough to photograph and post.

But I’ve found that there’s traces of memories hidden in most every technology we use: old text messages, emails, files on computers, Zipcar account activity, voicemails, Spotify playlists, Web browser bookmarks — the list goes on. Even our Netflix viewing histories store memories of Friday nights in with friends or awkward first dates, and the suggested ads on Facebook are reminders of online shopping sprees.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I was astounded by the fact that there’s never been a better time to live, if, like me, you’re chronically worried about losing memories. Our experiences are, in fact, embedded in the digital world around us.

While there has certainly been much discussion about the pitfalls of this stored information in our modern day society, I choose to view this in a mostly positive light. True, nothing will ever really compare to snuggling up in bed with a journal, a pen and some good music, and I never plan to fully let go of this habit. But to me, it’s somewhat comforting that my experiences and life are contained in other ways in the world around me.

In some ways, there are many, many “mini-diaries” of our lives thanks to the digital age that we live in. And while these documentations of our lives might be slightly scattered, they are still some sort of proof that we have lived and experienced life in our own uniquely human way.

I’ve always been more of a “write things down on paper” person than someone who uses my laptop for most everything. But I’ve come to accept that maybe it’s time to embrace some forms of technological documentation, because they ensure that I won’t forget some of the best experiences of my life.


Contact Julie Plummer at jplummer ‘at’

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