Never forgetting anyone

Yesterday I was reading this list of things that babies born in 2011 will never do, and was struck by this one:

Forgotten friends: Remember when an old friend would bring up someone you went to high school with, and you’d say, “Oh yeah, I forgot about them!” The next generation will automatically be in touch with everyone they’ve ever known even slightly via Facebook.

That’s an idea that’s been kicking around in my head for a while. The web makes it increasingly difficult to close a chapter in your life. Whether that’s coming out of the closet or just leaving middle school, the increasingly detailed memory of the web means that artifacts and relationships of your previous chapter will follow you, possibly forever.

Today, of course, you can manage your privacy settings in Facebook and LinkedIn, and block people on Twitter, but the trend is toward more openness and findability for individuals online.

There’s value in forgetting and moving on, isn’t there? Whether it’s just a high school bully or an overly-clingy college roommate, there are always people we want to leave behind. And I think there’s a certain cognitive burden in being that findable, or even being able to find just about anybody from your whole life. The web’s long term memory is going to make that harder and harder to do.

Do you think we’re better off remembering everything, or selectively forgetting?


  1. Simple solution, no facebook! I deleted my account a couple years ago and haven’t looked back.

  2. It’s a long-term trend. Funerals originally existed, in part, because there needed to be a ceremony to tell everyone in the village that this person was dead. Otherwise it’s possible that he or she could have simply decided to wander off to the next village or beyond — and, until very recently when people stopped living their whole lives near where they were born, that could mean they’d never be heard from or seen again.

    No one but the most hard-core off-the-gridder has expected to be able to walk away from life without a trace for some time now. Facebook findability is another step in the same direction.

  3. I moved back to my hometown (Yellowknife) a couple years ago after 20 yrs away. Very. Away. It’s a bit eerie and has its unpleasant elements (like trying to avoid someone unsuccessfully who greeted me overly warmly, put her hand on my tummy (!) and asked if I was pregnant. I’m not. See what I mean?).
    Closing chapters serves good purposes! Perhaps it’s been a luxury for the time between that to which Derek alludes, and the 2020-borns.
    (ps – on the whole I’m loving my experience up here and don’t want to convey otherwise. But reconnecting to chapters I’d thought closed is weird)

  4. I’d just delete or ignore the requests from people that I don’t like or have no interests to have much contact with. Simple solution. They get the message after you reject their requests a couple of times.

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