I’ve been trying to clean up aspects of my digital past for the past six or eight months. To date, that’s mostly meant migrating content between a range of different platforms to consolidate it. The ultimate goal is to move all personal stuff to either a private journal or public blog (this one), all business and work-related stuff migrated to my professional website, permanently delete tens of thousands of old emails (and empty old email accounts),1 and re-evaluate the different social media accounts that I possess and close/delete at least some of them.
In the course of this digital cleanup I’ve stumbled across lots of old writings, communications, and thoughts. Most are pretty banal but others remind me of significant moments in my life. Small things, like the first time I signed a lease or received notice that I was accepted into graduate schools. Notifications of family health emergencies. And too many messages from friends to which I didn’t respond.
Why am I cleaning things up? In part, for privacy and security reasons. I’ve tried to keep a relatively ‘clean’ online profile but know that my more youthful self was less mindful of what was put online that I am today. There are regular stories about accounts being penetrated and documents either being directly leaked to the public or, worse, being selectively modified and then subsequently published. The best way of addressing such threats starts by getting rid of materials that might be used in such doxing operations and old accounts that might offer insight into my private life.
I think that the process of going through and deleting items, however, also stems from my distaste for how near-permanent retention affects human relationships. In his book, Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, Victor Mayer Schonberger argues that humans have evolved to forget many of our interactions with one another in order to facilitate long-term relationships with one another. He impresses on the reader that it is important to add ‘forgetfulness’ to digital data collection processes and, as I wrote previously,
draws what are arguably correct theoretical conclusions (we need to get a lot better at deleting data to avoid significant normative, political, and social harms) while drawing absolutely devastatingly incorrect technological solutions (key: legislating ‘forgetting’ into all data formats and OSes).
We don’t remember all of the slights in a relationship, or all the harsh words spoken between one another, or even the abnormally positive comments or actions. As a result, we can have interactions with people who might have really upset us in the past because the reasons of that upset fade over time: we say that ‘time heals all wounds’ for a reason. It turns out that it’s because of human evolution!
So by retaining our memories permanently in a digital format there is the perpetual chance that we’re reminded of things that our minds have forgotten on our behalves. Perfect and permanent recollection isn’t the norm, and in our race to digitize and remember everything forever our technical aspirations are stepping beyond the nature of our bodies. Now we exceed our own bodily capabilities in lots of ways — humans are functionally cyborgs — but affecting our psychological interactions with one another strikes me, personally, as having potentially dangerous social implications. As a result, I tend to regard my current process of deleting parts of my past, forever, as a mental health practice as well as a practice linked to privacy or security.
The last few months of 2017 were hard for me. One of the ways that I know this is I took up hobbies that didn’t contribute to my development as a person and were, instead, simply pleasurable ways of wasting away time and trying to relax in the absence of doing anything of import. But it never really felt right: I had nothing to show at the end of the activities and typically wasn’t any happier with myself by the end of the recreation period.
Some of that is scar tissue from past relationships and past work-life imbalances.2 And some of it is linked to historical coping methods in periods of high stress. But this year I want to ensure that I find more productive outputs to relax so as to to find enjoyment in personal creation and to ensure that I can develop and grow as a person instead of just wasting away precious time. That doesn’t mean I’m never going to waste away time but, instead, that I want to be more deliberate and measured when I do decide to indulge in pointless recreation that doesn’t contribute to my personal enrichment.
“To make real change, you have to be well anchored – not only in the belief that it can be done, but also in some pretty real ways about who you are and what you can do.”
– Twyla Tharp
New Apps and Great App Updates from this Week
Great Photography Shots
Vincent Laforet strapped an iPhone 7 to the bottom of a Lear jet and then flew in a straight direction while activating the iPhone’s panorama mode. He’s sharing photos over at Instagram. They’re absolutely spectacular and show just what you can do with smartphone cameras.
Music I’m Digging
Neat Podcast Episodes
- Lawfare: David Anderson on the United Kingdom’s Intelligence Policies
- 99% Invisible: Thermal Delight
Good Reads for the Week
- When Travel Companies Don’t Believe “Black” Means “Luxury”
- Young and divorced: 6 stories from women: From marriage dissolution to ‘slaying Tinder dragons’
- Using an iPad for photography workflows
- (TRIGGER WARNING) I found my suicide note
- I don’t delete the actual email accounts because I’m mindful of a company re-using my old usernames and them potentially transforming into a vector for phishing. Yahoo! did this to their users. ↩
- It’s really hard for me to just take time to myself when that time isn’t productive in some sense. I can identify the reasons why but knowledge on its own isn’t sufficient to overcome the feeling of being ‘bad’. ↩