Monday 16 November 2009

Perfection is not Human - Allow me to Forget!

Lately I have been thinking a lot about digital sharing, what does it mean to 'share' a piece of yourself with a collective and for there to be a perfect record of each of these 'sharings'. How has this record changed the way people interact, argue, get even and even proclaim love.

By leaving behind our 'flawed' and very 'human' memory, I have begun to wonder if in the quest for immortality (of information) we are eroding our power to forget. Forgetting is something which has, throughout time, protected us both from an overload of information and our own past.

Before digital memory, if you had an argument with a friend; they would have their side, you would have your side. Eventually the fight would be forgotten. There was no proof as to who was right and who was wrong.

However if you have an argument with a friend on Skype, your words have a real chance of 'coming back' to haunt you. Your friend can now come back to you three weeks, three months or even three years later with your exact words. They can even have shown these words to various third parties and have received comments and opinions.

The appearance of this document, this non-temporal bit of evidence, means that we can no longer be spontaneous or flippant with our wording. Each word uttered in the digital realm has consequences, not just for today but forever.

"Forgetting plays a central role in human decision-making. It lets us act in time, cognizant of but not shackled by, past events. Through perfect memory we may lose a fundamental human capacity - to live and act firmly in the present"

Delete - The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age
Vicktor Mayer-Schonberger (2009)

As we inevitably live more of lives digitally and have access (digitally) to a perfect memory of both our own and other people histories. As time (and our lives) move on, there will undoubtedly be an accumulation of digital paraphernalia that we may wish to forget.

Perhaps as a designer I should begin to think about how I could program temporarily, or even decay, into digital information.

Below is an initial thought model which would allow information, which was not being regularly, used to be stored in a repository (hard disk). Information within this repository would begin to decay if not used for long periods of time. This would force the user to engage with the information they wanted to keep and not store things simply for fear of losing them. It would also mean that all information on the desktop was information that was regularly used or looked at.

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