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Friday Favorite: Timehop traces your digital footsteps through the past

Human brains are funny things when it comes to time. We spend a lot of our mental energy thinking about the future -- where to vacation, what to eat, when to quit and who to marry -- but what really fires our synapses is a little taste of the past. The future may be awesome and mysterious, but we can't remember things that haven't happened yet; memory is just as powerful as imagination, and more emotionally charged.

Whole industries have grown up around our innate desire to remember more, longer and with higher fidelity than we could in the absence of a technological assist. That's what makes an app like Timehop so interesting; it hitches itself to our deep affinity for nostalgia while delivering a clever dose of spontaneous discovery. If an app's MO is to send me a daily notification, I usually delete it in short order; the daily reminder from Timehop, in contrast, has helped it work its way into my frequent rotation.

Timehop's feature set is magically minimal. Sign in with Facebook, then point the app at your image-centric social media feeds (currently supported: Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram and Flickr) and your phone's camera roll. Wait a day.

After that, every morning Timehop will crawl back into the mists and pull out what you were doing, or what you photographed, on the same day one/two/three or more years before. Within the Timehop app, you can re-share that moment with Timehop friends, flag as a favorite, comment or re-publish the status update or photo to Facebook or Twitter.

It seems so simple, but it's surprisingly engaging -- almost-forgotten moments taking you by surprise, whether adorable or bittersweet. The service originally kicked off in February 2011 as 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo, an email-based rewind that shadowed your Foursquare history and told you where you'd been. Since January of last year, Timehop has centered on the app experience exclusively and let the email piece fade away.

With leadership from Jonathan Wegener (who created one of my favorite transit apps, the NYC subway where-to-stand guide Exit Strategy) and venture backing from several NYC tech elites (OATV, Spark Capital, TechStars, Foursquare co-founders Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai, and shiny new MIT Media Lab faculty member Kevin Slavin), Timehop has the pedigree and the resources to shine.

Even if you don't think the idea of reliving your past posts and snapshots sounds particularly appealing, give Timehop a try. You may discover something unexpected. Timehop is a free download in the iOS App Store for iOS 5 or higher.