Too often, we treat the act of forgetting as a shortcoming. It’s a phenomenon we associate with shame, ineptitude, and loss. My friends with ADHD are especially prone to these feelings as they carry on at a pace unaccommodated by the rest of the world. I too am haunted, as a person who ritualistically documents my existence into journals, planners, calendars, and photo albums. Ironically, I have multiple channels that exist to help me remember, some more explicit than others.
Wanting to free myself and others from the shame of misplacing memories, I started In Defense of Forgetting to collect quotes that frame forgetting as healing, purposeful, and even eudaemonic. The result is a panoply of things we shan’t forget about forgetting.
The most obvious redemption for forgetting is its ability to “reset” our affective palate. It allows us to move past pain and reencounter pleasant experiences with renewed surprise and delight.
Forgetting has psycho-social utility: when we devote our attention toward other people and temporarily forget ourselves, we escape egoic suffering.
In our rather loud days, we deflect thousands of signals that compete for the foreground of our attention. Attention is a fragile, finite thing best applied to one locus at a time. It is necessary, then, that we release awareness of some things so that we may engage fully with others. Forgetting is the practice of determining what is important, and what is just noise.
There’s an abundance of technologies that help us remember—mobile notifications, photographs, beadwork, days of observance, repetition, writing. Such prostheses are our coping mechanisms for the information age.
As a result, the choreography of remembrance becomes overly complicated by our lack of trust in it. We must not only recall the content itself but also the practice of giving it material form, the location of said material, the maintenance of said material.
Yet we understand that materials can be just as ephemeral as thoughts. The passage of time and the entropy of the elements spare no memento. The electronics we treat as bodily extensions were designed for obsolescence, and the software we deem our “second brain” lasts only as long as the next economic downturn. Meanwhile the files of yore are already yellowing, rusting, and inaccessible via USB-C.
Perhaps it is best to practice non-attachment with both our memories and these physical reminders. Perhaps when we forfeit these traces to the erosion of time, whatever information is left will be precisely what we were meant to remember.
In Defense of Forgetting is one of very few green channels I operate. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by all the Are.na residents who have remembered its existence and added blocks. Peter Pelberg was one such person, who added this quote from urban planner and author Kevin A. Lynch. It brought to my attention the beautiful allegory that to accept the mortality of our memories is to accept the mortality of our bodies.
Jo Suk is a writer studying at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). Their recent research interests include maintenance labor, gut feelings, and time-telling instruments.