I want my tech to forget

But only certain things and only sometimes.

Like many 90’s children I grew up in the advent of the digital revolution that saw computers go from businesses tools to a part of our everyday lives. This means I also grew up with a whole chunk of my middle childhood years missing from the annals of history attributed to anything from failing 256 MB memory cards in digital cameras (yes that was a thing) to the quarterly crashing of whatever virus infested Window’s computer had finally had enough Napster downloads to spoil its core.

That’s how I went from adorable child to fully grown human with no lasting photos of those few years when I both died my hair black and straightened it. It really is a blessing in disguise.

But that problem, among others, have been solved by a boiling stew of advancements in technology touching virtually every area of our lives. This yoyo between extremes has however created a whole new issue, technology is getting too good at remembering.

Let me explain in three anecdotes why I am obsessed with the concept of “forgetting” in technology services (and why you should be too).

1. I deleted my Facebook.

I first got a Facebook somewhere in high school. And that was the problem. Now a decade later the service was filled with every person I had ever known, and a few that I had just stalked hard enough to accidentally become online acquaintances with.

I had changed as a person and in the process fallen out of touch with half the people’s content which still filled my feed. As amusing as it was watching people I vaguely remembered from high school get married, then divorced, then start Etsy stores, it had absolutely no relevance to my daily life. The few valuable bits of information from people I still had healthy interpersonal relationships with was awash in a see of a bunch of things that didn’t matter.

Then there was the issue that every new person I met then became acquainted with my personal history going back through high school, some slutty college years, and the near content blackout of becoming a real adult with a job.

Facebook couldn’t forget, and it began to complicate relationships rather than improve them. That’s when we parted ways.

2. I got a new phone.

You see first on this particular list is I had been having an issue with my search history ping-ponging its way back and forth between connected devices. I am a generally pretty normal guy, with generally normal fetishes but I have a work computer and a personal computer so there is literally only one use for a personal computer when you don’t do anything besides work, go eat with friends, or go home and sleep (alone).

… I think you get the point there.

Then there were all the contacts, I had 7 Brians, 13 Sams, and 35 “?s”, it was time to do a Fall cleaning and decide who still really needed to be on the possible butt-dial list (also just known as all your contacts).

Finally there was the e-mail. It had stopped showing how many unread messages there were and people had started to e-mail my mother, to call me, to check my personal e-mail.

This could not go on.

So I decided it was time for a new cloud account, new e-mail, and to transfer information the good old fashioned way. It was a slaughter and so few bytes made it through the mayhem. RIP information, you stuck around too long.

But here I was for the second time in a few months running into the issue that my technology was too good at remembering things. It was storing too much of my information and the new things I actually needed were getting lost in the clutter.

3. I was convinced to build a social media app that forgets.

Talos has been working on a social media application for a while and we are actually going into development this week on the final feature set. Yay us!

The application geotags posts and we make use of this information in a heat-map like style as well as the traditional “feed” view. We however had two conflicting user stories: (1) User A who wanted to know what was going on around them right now and wanted to find cool places to go (2) User B who wanted to explore the place she was at right now.

This is exactly why forgetting is so complicated for technology, it is nuanced and depends on an individual users needs at a particular time. Both User A & B can be the same person in the same evening, maybe trying to decide what to order off the menu at a restaurant then wanting to decide where to go for drinks after dinner.

The application has the information to serve both user’s needs but in practice they are mutually exclusive.

After ending up face-to-face with the problem that has been stalking me the last few months I let go of my distaste with services that can’t forget. The truth is if they served my desire to move on at this moment in time they wouldn’t be able to serve their other customers who rely on their services to not do the exact thing I was so desperately in need of.

One thing is clear however, we are building a service which forgets certain things at certain times which means there are others out there taking aim at the ever remembering bastions of the cloud era. Could it be that in becoming too reliable at storing too much information they have opened the door, just a crack, for the next generation of competitors?