Is Apple trying to supress our memories of the Holocaust?
The news that the tech giant is censoring the ‘Memories’ function on users’ iPhones to prevent images from Holocaust related locations showing up has been met with mixed reactions. Some are pleased photos of solemn places aren’t being included. Not me: I don’t need Apple to decide which of my photos I should be protected from.
‘Memories’ is a feature on the iPhone which ‘curates’ collections of photos from your own images, sorting them by theme, location or the people in them. So, for example, you can watch a slideshow set to music of food you’ve eaten on holiday, or your pets frolicking in the park, all generated automatically by your phone without you having to make any manual selection.
The inclusion of sad photos upset some people, with deceased relatives or difficult places showing up when least expected. So in a move worthy of an episode of Black Mirror, the iPhone software now reportedly blocks photos from a list of specific locations from being used in the Memories feature on our own phones, even though we took them ourselves specifically so we could remember them.
The website 9to5Mac has analysed the latest software update and revealed that, to date, all the locations which are blocked are related to the Holocaust, from Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the US Holocaust Museum, to Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau and other extermination camps. Even the Anne Frank House and the Schindler factory are on the blacklist.
One can imagine why the tech giant overreacted so much. Perhaps someone at Apple was sent an incensed email by an iPhone user disgusted at the video their phone had generated of pictures from Auschwitz set to an upbeat, royalty free rip-off of a Mumford and Sons song. In an all too predictable chain reaction the PR department calls the legal team, and the legal team tells the tech guys to ring-fence photos from ‘sensitive’ locations using the phone’s GPS chip so they don’t appear at all in the slide shows. Voila! Apple customers need never again be bothered by their own memories of Holocaust locations.
Except that those of us who visit sites of historical and educational importance usually only take photographs there precisely because we specifically want to remember what we saw. Many people who visit the Nazi extermination camps or Holocaust memorial museums declare those trips to be among the most powerful and life-changing experiences they have. Not all memories need to be set to cheerful, uplifting music. Some are moving and sad – they’re difficult but important.
My late father grew up in Italy and was hidden as a child during the Holocaust. He was separated from his parents and protected by nuns in a Catholic orphanage. Like many children of survivors, I have worked hard to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, both for myself and others. We know that once the survivors are no longer alive, it is our responsibility to continue the task of active remembrance. But it seems Apple disagrees.
Apple’s decision is not just a bad one in terms of the Holocaust; the company is also contributing to that modern ‘influencer’ ideal where all memories must be happy, smiling ones, accompanied by generic, up-beat guitar music. Part of being human, though, is acknowledging both the dark and the light. Life pushes our emotions up and down, with sorrow and tragedy as much a part of every single parson’s memory reel as are happiness and fun. How strange to simply decide on our behalf that we shouldn’t witness our own snapshots from difficult places we’ve chosen to visit. Perhaps we want to be moved, even to sadness, by our memories. Who are Apple to decide for us?
The exact same technology Apple is using could produce the exact same list of destinations and photos, but without making our decisions for us. Instead the software could let us decide what we want to do with those photos, instead of withholding them from us in our ‘Memories’ slideshows. Maybe we do want to be reminded of them just as much as of happier memories. Why not offer us an option with more suitable, sombre music, to prove that smartphones and algorithms can be good for life’s deeper, serious moments and not just the frothy world of sun, sea and selfies?