Have you ever forgotten where you’ve been? On the web, I mean. Surely over the course of your lifetime, you’ve visited thousands of websites, participated in forums, created social media accounts, given feedback on various topics, commented on blogs, and saved links to sites you liked.
Then you switched computers and lost your links, or you deleted them, or you just forgot all about them.
Newer cloud-based services allow you to store links on the web, and newer browsers operate by account rather than storing bookmarks and references locally, but that wasn’t always the case. All of us have probably lost touch with people over the years. Microsoft’s Messenger service is one example. It’s been dying a slow death for years, and now they’re going to kill it. I logged into Messenger the other day after reading an article about Microsoft shutting it down. The old references can be moved to Skype, apparently, by logging into Skype with your previous Messenger account. The Messenger service itself is soon to be defunct.
After logging in to Messenger for the first time in many years, I looked at the list of contacts. How long had it been since I’d talked to these people? Nearly a decade? Perusing the list, I realized I didn’t recognize a good number of the names. Why were they there? I don’t think I’ve even talked to many of them – ever. They must have requested a contact with me, and perhaps I approved them at some point, but never chatted with them.
It reminded me of my old computer, the one with all my FireFox links. It reminded me of the slew of accounts I used to have at a variety of different services. I thought of my old FreeYellow account and the first website I’d ever setup. It reminded me of my old MySpace pages and web plugin experiments for podcasting. I reminisced about the BigFoot email service I used to use, and the old Play-by-Post RPGs I used to frequent. Then I thought of the stuff I had in boxes in my closet, and all the old crap that was still stored in my father’s garage.
If you don’t use something for decades, then you’ll probably never use it. You probably don’t think about it much. You probably don’t even remember what it was. In which case, it’s mostly junk – at least from a usability perspective. You don’t need it and aren’t going to use it. So why not get rid of it?
Old web references are like that. The internet is a massive ocean. That reef you swam through six years ago may have been interesting. It may have had beautiful corals and bright fish. But if you haven’t gone back there in six years, do you really care about swimming there again?
I realized that I didn’t care that much. In fact, I cared so little, that I had no incentive to backtrack. I don’t really care if those sites are up anymore. They don’t help me work. They don’t provide value to my life anymore – if they ever did. Whatever I gained from them before has already been gained. It’s a part of me now, locked somewhere in the internal seas below my thoughts, where an unseen ecosystem bubbles concepts and abstractions into my daily perceptions and fleeting opinions.
There is, I now realize, no need to backtrack. I hardly ever visit the sites I have bookmarked, even on my new system. And I haven’t lost anything. A simple search retrieves more relevant results than a return to my links. What is important of them has remained within me. The pursuit of the new interests me more than revisiting the past. Therefore the old links can die. The old contacts can be deleted. The old sites can fade to black. It matters not. What counts is not where I have been, but where I am going.
As for old friends, those that matter already have alternative contacts. Those that care know where I am now. The others, those barely remembered people in Messenger, they can find me again if they need to, and I can find them as well. Do they remember me, I wonder? I suppose it doesn’t matter.
I have been many places in this web ocean. Many reefs and shoals have I forgotten. In the deepness of time, they sink and darken. A detritus of pixelated deletion falls upon them, burying their memory, but I remain. Ambivalent to their demise, I swim on.