MAY 9, 2020
CODEC: e2ba9e


Never Have I Ever is the first television show I’ve seen that highlights something I absolutely hate about our current technology, and I'm so thankful they included it.

It's about the way that 'memories' can really hurt.

Never Have I Ever follows Devi, a 16-year old high school student who's had a really rough year. On top of being a little awkward and, you know, 16-years old (isn't that problem enough??) her perfectly healthy dad dies of a sudden heart attack, leaving her struggling through a major life trauma.

Her father is a specter throughout the entire show. It's clear that he's always on her mind, which makes sense. She's repressed the hurt and anguish, and yet at any moment a small thought can bring her right back to thinking about him. Even when things are going really well for Devi this recent trauma lingers, keeping her from feeling happy or carefree.

Towards the end of the season, something happens. She's scrolling on her phone watching a stupid Instagram Story (the perfect content, a guy from her school trying to eat an entire sandwich in one bite) and she gets a notification.

It isn't a text message. It's a 'memory'.

"You have a new memory — Dad's Birthday!"

Ouch. Have you ever been hurt by one of these? I have. This moment hit me hard, and I only know a fragment of the pain that comes with this type of 'notification'.

A few years ago I lost my house to a fire. After this happened I found it incredibly difficult just to scroll through my photo library, let alone be reminded of the loss by 'on this day' style notifications pointedly telling me to look back on memories of my home that no longer was.

Those photos represented nothing more than a 'memory' to my phone, but to me they were reminders of loss. Sadly, there was no button I could push on my phone to tell it all about the tragedy that I had endured.

This wasn't the only example of my phone's careless attitude towards hurt. I was an early adopter of home automation and gleefully installed every smart device I possibly could throughout my house. I replaced the light switches and bulbs with ones that talked to HomeKit, I bought plugs to turn things on and off when I wasn’t around, and I had a thermostat to turn the air up or down without leaving my bed.

That all burned up — the bed, the lights, the thermostat. Yet there was still a 'Home' app on my phone, trying to communicate with all those devices. Opening it would show an error message: "No accessories responding."

No shit.

Behind that error was everything as it once was, a 'memory' of all the work I had done. A picture of my home as the background. My home's name, ‘Mountain Island' — an inside joke between my wife and I, a name we gave the house to describe the amount of peace we felt inside of it, a name which now felt ironic and sad.

One day I decided I was done seeing these errors and these memories. I tapped the ‘Edit’ button, tapped ‘Mountain Island’, and after a moment’s hesitation, hit ‘Remove Home’.

‘Remove Home’.

What a clinical way to describe what I was doing. It was true, of course — but I was also saying ‘Goodbye, Home’.

My phone didn't know that, but I imagine that these days many people are saying their goodbyes to people and places through the devices in their hands.

They say goodbye to parents, like Devi did with her father on Never Have I Ever. They say goodbye to children. They say goodbye to spouses. They say goodbye to old homes, old cities, old roommates, old significant others.

Unlike my phone, I am aware when someone has had to say goodbye to something. I know the sensitivity that comes along with it. Even in the best of situations, say moving for a job or leaving your family home to go to college, these events can be hard.

All my phone knows is that once we had a memory. Once we took a photo.

Once, I had a home.

Once, Devi had a dad.

The phone has not been taught to have curiosity about what happened between the then and the now — and we have no ability to tell it what’s changed. Sadly, our devices are surprisingly good at resurfacing painful memories, again and again.

So for now, our phones will still be sending us happy notifications to remind us of our grief. We will get notifications from our photos apps telling us to remember painful memories, we will get advertisements telling us to continue shopping for the baby we miscarried, we will get Facebook friend-iversary announcements telling us to say hello to the dead.

Maybe someday, technology will understand that these notifications require nuance. That the future moves in ways that make the past painful.

But for now, I’ll continue bracing myself when I click the ‘For You’ tab in photos and see ‘On this day in 2018’, reminding me of the home I once had what feels like a lifetime ago.

I know people like Devi will be bracing themselves, too.