Forgetting Things: Feature or Bug?

Is the human brain’s ability to forget a feature or a bug?

Does forgetting allow humans to function better (more efficiently, without constraints that may be artificially created or enhanced if each memory were to be consulted before making a decision)?

Gordon Bell, a Microsoft researcher, argues that we may not need to remember everything, but we should at least keep everything.

We all have unwanted bits we should be free to discard. (That whole freshman year of high school, for example.) “If you think you should forget, you should,” Bell concedes. “But for God’s sake, keep all the papers you’ve written and the photos you take. Sometime down the road you might be looking for something and you won’t even give yourself the chance of finding it.”

By off-loading the memory duties to digital devices, our brains are more free to think.

By using e-memory as a surrogate for meat-based memory, he argues, we free our minds to engage in more creativity, learning, and innovation (sort of like Getting Things Done without all those darn Post-its).

Others argue that forgetting is as important as remembering (if not more).

NPR covers Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, director of the Information and Innovation Policy Research Center at the National University of Singapore‘s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, is the author of the new book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age.  He writes that:

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.

Mayer-Schonberger thinks

that it’s not good if “whatever we do, whatever images are taken of us, will be around for decades to come” — and available to use against us.

I, for one, know that I am more conscious about what I do and post online because of this fact – the Internet never forgets.

Interesting conversation with the NPR correspondent:

Mayer-Schonberger Interview

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