Meditations on Erasing, Outsourced Memory, and The Second Self

What if you were to erase your digital past? All of it. Start fresh. Today.

All of those photos of past loves. All those documents of work from two jobs ago. All of that stuff you have been clinging on to that has no real impact or relevance today. The stuff you will likely never need again. What if you were to make the conscious choice to erase it in order to move yourself faster forward? Not because you need the space. Not so you can run around calling yourself “minimalist”. What if your reason for doing it was no more than being more focused on the present and more prepared for the future. A recent essay from Ev Bogue has had me meditating on just that.

The fact is, that technology is catching up in such a way that increasingly it will hold onto the past and those memories for us. Our Second Self 1, as Ev has coined it, will contain our memories so we don’t have to. We will be able to search for and access all of this stuff if we ever need it again. It will be out there. Especially if it matters. Do we really need it in the same physical and cognitive space as the things that are important and relevant today?

For instance, if I were to delete this site tomorrow, you could still find a lot of the content. Especially the important stuff. Google caches it. The Wayback Machine remembers it exactly as it was. Perhaps, even more fundamentally, the really important stuff has been retweeted, reblogged, taken to heart and put into practice, and all but lives on far beyond the words in this container. Would it be the end of the world if I erased it and started over?

Another example is Dropbox and CrashPlan. I put everything I can now, including all of my documents, into Dropbox. CrashPlan does incremental backups of my machine every 15 minutes. If I were to erase something from my system, it would not truly be gone. Both have the ability to restore deleted content. If I really needed something back I could find it and retrieve it. The technology has become my long term digital memory – keeping multiple copies and versions so that I can focus on the things that are important and relevant now.

Then there are the other things I’m letting my second self build and remember as I go. Any link I share on Twitter is remembered by my Pinboard. As is every item I read in Instapaper. Not to mention the many, many, things I send there manually. I don’t need to save that interesting link I read that may or may not be important to find later. I don’t need to keep it. If I read it I will be able to find it. My second self will remember. My primary self can therefore have more cognitive space and technological ability to work with what I need today.

My mind also turns to those who recently lost all of their email due to a GMail snafu. They opened up their email today and poof all of it is gone. On one level, I think about the consequence of trusting and outsourcing such memory and data to the technology, the cloud, the second self. The loss of control. The loss of things that really do matter today. On another level, I envy it. How nice might it be to start over and send out a message to all of my contacts letting them know what happened and to send their message again if it was important.

It causes me to challenge myself about the nature of control. Am I controlling the data? Is the data controlling me? Do we really ever have control over it in the first place? Is the loss of control frightening or, in some ways, cathartic? Does the true control and empowerment come from being able to take it or leave it? To erase?

Just a few of the things I’ve been meditating on lately and hopefully will spur some further thought for you as well.


  1. The ideas of Second Self and Augmented Humanity I find to be very interesting and important ones and Ev is a thought leader in this area. If you want to get a glimpse of where humanity is headed in the very present future, this is a must read. ↩

The Future is Now! – Music That Follows You

We live in the future. You know that, right? To show you the proof, I’m going to start regularly posting examples starting with this one:

I started out listening to the new Radiohead album this morning in the shower on my iPhone plugged into the auxiliary jack of my Tivoli radio which lives on the bathroom shelf.

I got out, toweled off, unplugged the iPhone from the Tivoli, stuck in my headphones, and continued to listen as I made my way upstairs. Once upstairs I removed the headphones and, using AirPlay, continued broadcasting right where I left off to the speakers connected to my Airport Express.

I got dressed, checked my email (on the iPhone), packed up my brief bag, then headed downstairs but only after switching the playing to the speakers there. Then, as I left the house, I plugged the iPhone into my car adapter and continued listening on my drive.

All of this using a music player that is also an advanced communications device and computer that gives me access to more information than I could ever possibly want to know and fits in my pocket.

The future is now.

Online Writing, Patronage, and The Evolution Of The Blog

I’ve been think a lot lately about the whole concept of this site, online writing (blogging) in the traditional sense, and the appropriateness of certain writing for certain venues.

This thinking has been spurred in no small part by two sources. First, the conversations that Gwen Bell has helped to start around these ideas. Secondly, as I’m in the editing process of taking some of this work you see here and turning it into a book.

Now the first is a highly interesting concept, Gwen (and others) have decided to completely wipe the slate clean. Erasing everything from the blog and starting first with rethinking the very idea of what a “blog” should be, what it should contain, the purpose that it serves, and why it should exist in the first place. Years and years of writing and other content gone from the Internet. Instead, Gwen, at least for the time being, is taking future short form writing (that which may have been a blog post) and making it available as a paid subscription based newsletter. For longer works and those curated around a theme, she is producing eBooks (The first of which, Digital Warriorship, is wonderful and well worth the cost).

One reason this is compelling to me is the idea of arts patronage. With a certain view, that is what is going on here. Gwen is asking those who wish to read her longer works to support the production of such with a financial commitment. This is not too far removed from the practice in times past of someone, wanting the custom work of a particular artist, agreeing to support them financially. This was not only in return for the final work but also to insure it’s production (you want to give the artist the freedom to produce without worry of where his next meal would come from). As a writer and, therefore, an artist, one should be able to readily see why I find interest in this.

Then, there is the personal journey I’m going through as I have collected many of the posts here, have sent them to a publisher and editor, and have been in the process of rearranging these pieces around themes to make a narrative whole. It is slowly becoming apparent that perhaps this work should have always been presented in the context of a book. That what you have read here over the years has simply been a rough draft for this final product. That perhaps, once released, those pieces (or even perhaps everything you see here) should be deleted from the blog format and only live on much more polished and only in the context of a collected and curated whole – a book.

Finally, this is all a greater part of my also asking what is the appropriate context for my art. I have discovered that much of what I write is often part of a larger narrative, one yet to be discovered even by myself at times, and should be presented as a book in it’s final form. Although each piece could stand on it’s own as a blog post, should it? I also think about patronage and if I could get a few people to pay for the privilege of having access to longer and deeper work, especially if it had the reward at the end of receiving a completed, edited and curated whole.

I don’t have any answers to these questions yet and have not made up mind to go any particular directions. That said, this partly explains why you have seen a slowdown in my production here and elsewhere and some of the ideas that are forming the basis of what will come next.

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