the need to forget

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A presentation made to the Housing Memory student conference at the Faculty of Information (iSchool), University of Toronto -- on why organizations as well as individuals need a selective memory.


  • 1. Joel Alleyne Faculty of Information University of Toronto KMDI University of Toronto March 13, 2009
  • 2.
  • 3.
  • 4.
    • The syndrome was given the name hyperthemestic syndrome (from the Greek "thymesis", for remembering) by the neuropsychologist James McGaugh and his colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, who investigated this case.
  • 5.
    • then I discovered that AJ (aka Jill Price) has written a book about her experiences.
  • 6.
    • Dan Schacter of Harvard University says:
      • "A system that records every detail willy-nilly and makes that information accessible on an ongoing basis is one that will result in mass confusion. We forget because the brain has developed strategies to weed out irrelevant or out-of-date information. Efficient forgetting is a crucial part of having a fully functioning memory . (emphasis added)
  • 7.
    • Do we really need to return all of the versions of all of the documents that match the search criteria when looking for something in our repositories?
    • How do we determine which is the best version to start from the final one with our best positions negotiated away or an earlier version?
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    • He speaks to issues of a more broader societal nature that result from our obsession to store everything. E.G.: Google In March 2007, Google confirmed that since its inception it had stored every search query every user ever made and every search result she ever clicked on. Google remembers forever (p. 3) ;
  • 10.
    • Our obsession with keeping all digital photos we take good or bad just in case
    • Companies that keep our air travel enquiries whether we purchase a ticket or not;
    • The information stored on credit bureau databases; and,
    • A variety of data services that store and hoard information on individuals.
  • 11.
    • We store everything because it is cheaper and faster than ever to do so.
      • Paper files, in their analog form, are harder to organize, search and retrieve relevant information.
      • With the cost of storage dramatically falling every year we now have ways of storing huge amounts of digital artifacts in ways we could not five or ten years ago.
      • So we do.
  • 12.
    • Viktor claims that data retention is now the default and suggests we need to reverse this.
  • 13.
    • Organizational knowledge
    • The concept of knowledge artifacts in organizations
    • Implications for knowledge management
    • Implications for knowledge processes in organizational settings
  • 14.
    • Do we need to retain everything ? Do our massive collection aid or hinder our KM objectives?
    • What are the privacy and ethical issues associated with data retention on our employees / staff as well as on customers?
    • Does the fact that everything we do is being watched affect our behaviour (what we say and do)?
  • 15.
    • Do we need to prune information from our vast databases so that we create better functioning systems?
    • Do the strategies we use in our massive databases differ significantly because of the raw computing power that can be applied for organizing and searching these repositories?
  • 16.
    • Is David Weinberger right when he claims Everything is miscellaneous and we should just allow the computer systems to store, sort and reposition / display digital artifacts when we need to retrieve them?
  • 17.
    • Is David Gelernter right when he challenges us (in his manifesto ) to stop using old metaphors such as the filing cabinet in the new computer medium (after all these new systems have affordances not possessed by those we are replacing)?
  • 18.
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