Every so often, I’ll check my email and see a notification from Google Photos showing a snapshot from a few years ago along with the words “Rediscover this day.” Mostly, the pictures are from my family’s several-month expedition in Europe when I was in ninth grade. I must have taken thousands of photos, both on a camera and my iPhone, and uploaded them to Google Photos to make sure I’d have them forever. Now, the app has seared some of the most prominent memories of my trip into my brain, prompting me to “rediscover” the plethora of pictures I snapped in Park Guell in Barcelona or Grand Place in Brussels. Facebook has a similar agenda; I’m constantly urged to share a “memory” from years past.
Looking at my old photos is no doubt enjoyable and nostalgic. I can remember my excitement when I got the perfect angle of a colorful building in Seville, Spain, or when I was able to capture a canal in Venice without being photo-bombed by other eager tourists. The most aesthetically pleasing pasta dishes I ordered in Italy are stored as photographs that make my mouth water from time to time. In some ways, it feels as if I really can relive my trip through my computer screen.
Sometimes, however, a distant memory will pop into my head of a moment that didn’t involve my camera: a windy cliffside walk one afternoon in Ireland; a laughter-filled conversation I shared with my sister on a train to Belgium; a gorgeous but for some reason unphotogenic view out the window of an Airbnb in Paris. Suddenly recalling these details makes me wonder how many others are stored away in some dark corner of my brain, bound to disappear completely in a decade or two.
The mistake I made on my trip, I’m beginning to realize, was my reluctance to keep a personal journal during its entirety. My mom once let me read her diary from a vacation she took out West as a teenager, an amusing compilation of her family’s activities, meals, and countless arguments. My mom recorded every aspect of her thoughts, from her disgust with a certain motel breakfast to her longing to be with her friend Donna back home. When I read it, I felt as if I were right there with her, enduring a hot car ride after an unsatisfyingly mushy bowl of cereal. I want to remember even my most trivial complaints and observations from my time in Europe, so that someday I’ll remember what it was like to be 14.
In a few months when I graduate high school, I’ll receive a small glimpse into my early teenage years in the form of a letter I wrote in eighth grade. Mrs. Rubin, one of my teachers, had her classes compose a small note to themselves, not to be opened until graduation. I remember slipping a $5 bill into the envelope so that my future self could buy an ice cream cone to celebrate her achievement. Hopefully, the letter, when I read it, will conjure images as vivid as those in my mom’s diary.
Even if don’t keep a daily journal — frankly, all I really want to do at the end of the day is watch Netflix — I plan to continue writing letters to my future self. I’ll include the oddest, most specific details, making sure older Chloe can’t forget them. Though I love looking at old pictures, I’d rather act as my own Google Photos, periodically delivering the hardest to capture — and often most meaningful — memories.
Chloe Mandel is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with five classmates.