The internet is rotting – let’s embrace it

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger in The Conversation: “Every year, some thousands of sites – including ones with unique information – go offline. Countless further webpages become inaccessible; instead of information, users encounter error messages.

Where some commentators may lament yet another black hole in the slowly rotting Internet, I actually feel okay. Of course, I, too, dread broken links and dead servers. But I also know: Forgetting is important.

In fact, as I argued in my book, “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age,” all through human history, humans reserved remembering for the things that really mattered to them and forgot the rest. Now the internet is making forgetting a lot harder.

Built to forget

Humans are accustomed to a world in which forgetting is the norm, and remembering is the exception.

This isn’t necessarily a bug in human evolution. The mind forgets what is no longer relevant to our present. Human memory is constantly reconstructed – it isn’t preserved in pristine condition, but becomes altered over time, helping people overcome cognitive dissonances. For example, people may see an awful past as rosier than it was, or devalue memories of past conflict with a person with whom they are close in the present.

Forgetting also helps humans to focus on current issues and to plan for the future. Research shows that those who are too tethered to their past find it difficult to live and act in the present. Forgetting creates space for something new, enabling people to go beyond what they already know.

Organizations that remember too much ossify in their processes and behavior. Learning something new requires forgetting something old – and that is hard for organizations that remember too much. There’s a growing literature on the importance of “unlearning,” or deliberately purging deeply rooted processes or practices from an organization – a fancy way to say that forgetting fulfills a valuable purpose….(More)”.