The beauty of forgetting

Read one of Wired Uk’s 20 ideas worth considering for 2010 and one of them caught my eye. Clive Thomson reported on ideas from the author of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age and I can’t help but think that we have naturally adapted to what we so often call “information overload” in a way that doesn’t require us to design for forgetting.

One of my theories is that we’ve built up the internet as a way of finding rather than as a way of remembering, naturally allowing us to forget most of it. Digital stacks of papers and bookshelves. We’ve built up the equivalent behavior of “oh I’m sure it’s in that pile”. Digital synapses dying every day.

Just as an example, here are some things I do now as ways of forgetting:

– Use Delicious to store rather than as a reference point. I rarely look at my own bookmarks.
– Not actually remembering where a link came from, but who tweeted it instead.
– Check RSS feeds in a “watching TV”-like trance: I just click through the channels and stop on the stuff that visually catches my eye. I open my RSS reader once a week at best, and the stuff that’s at the top gets read, the rest kindof gets ignored.

We have more ways of archiving than ever but that doesn’t mean we’re interested in that archive. I was a guest lecturer last month in a design school and was shocked to find that most of the research students were pulling out was from the past 3 years at most.

Archiving doesn’t have the same qualities as a library quite yet. Maybe that’s a design opportunity, or maybe the FluidData metaphor needs to be reexamined.

In any case, I think we’re better at forgetting now than we used to and that has raised the profile of “knowledge” and “opinion” over “information” (also probably explains why blogging is not quite a dead art). The people who take the time to remember will rule us all. The rest of us, will rely on our “devices” and Google.