External Requests Versus Internal Requirements

A commenter observed that a side-effect of my blog reset is that now any answers on Stack Overflow that pointed to my blog are broken. This is an unfortunate situation that I didn’t consider when I decided to reset my blog, and it did give me some pangs of regret when I looked at the list of answers that referred to me. It also got me thinking about the inevitable conflict in life between external requests (i.e. things other people want from me) and internal requirements (i.e. things that I want for myself).

From the Internet’s perspective, it would be happy if every piece of information that ever appears on the web would: a) stay on the web forever, and b) stay in exactly the same place forever. This makes total sense from the collective perspective—I’ve been amazed by the number of times that I’ve gone to research some obscure thing (such as how to unbind a DOS executable from a DOS 4/GW extender… don’t ask me why) and found some answer from back in the dark ages (like, 1996). Information disappearing, from a public utility standpoint, is a Very Bad Thing because you never know how useful that information might be some day. In college I was always amazed at the variety of interesting historical information that could be deduced from everyday things like private letters, diaries, commercial correspondence, etc. The true enemy of the scholar indeed is people who throw away… well, anything, really.

But from my perspective, it’s a lot of dead weight. I mean, a lot of the stuff I dumped off my blog was written five or six years ago. Some of it was wrong and a lot of it was irrelevant when looked at through the lens of later events. Some of it reminded me of things that I’d rather forget all about. And some of it was, frankly, embarrassing. One could say, “Well, then, just don’t look at it!” And, most of the time, I didn’t. But, you know, it was still there, taunting me from the archive list on the right hand side of the blog.

Some changes in my personal life recently motivated me to go through a bunch of boxes that had been sitting in storage for years. They were mostly full of stuff from my high school and college years—old papers, letters, other random stuff. I’d been holding on to a lot of it because, well, it was my stuff. But in looking through it, I realized how much of a burden most it had become. Like the blog, I didn’t look at the boxes very often, but there they always were, taking up space, having to be moved around, making me keep track of them. So I decided to go through and throw away anything that didn’t have a strong, tangible, positive, personal meaning to me. I’d say I threw away about 90% of what I had stored in those boxes, tons of stuff I no longer even remembered anything about. And the wonderful thing? Once I was over the initial trauma, I felt a lot better, freer, and lighter. It’s amazing what wonders getting rid of old stuff can do for you, even if it does make my theoretical future biographer’s job harder.

So my apologies to the Internet: I realize that losing my miniscule contributions to global knowledge might make life a little more difficult, and I’m sorry about that. But I have to say: I feel a whole lot better letting go of that stuff. I’m sure it’s going to cost me some (or even a lot) of visitors, but it seems like a small price to pay. At least, for me.

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2 thoughts on “External Requests Versus Internal Requirements

  1. tim

    I thought I was the only person who cared about the collective knowledge of the human race and the fact that so much has been lost to time simply because people didn’t care enough to keep it or write it down. Nice to know that there are others out there. (Not that I horde and I do feel the need to let go of whole segments of my life from time to time but I do give it some thought before I take the plunge).

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