A few days ago, I wrote a post where I reminisced about the online forums of yesteryear. I mention tracking down and reaching out to a webmaster of a forum that meant a lot to me. Well, I have an update: she responded, and it was indeed her! I considered asking her if she might be open to digging up any backups she might have had, but then I thought about it, and I figured that perhaps some things are better left in the past. I don't remember the contents of those posts, but I do remember the positive emotions, and I think that's enough.
This leads me onto a topic that I've wanted to write about for a while: data-hoarding. I personally struggle with the concept of entropy in general. This manifests itself in many ways, but a clear one is information loss. If I were to leave this unchecked, I could see myself easily becoming a data-hoarder. The impulse is much stronger for unique data that I created (personal data), and in fact this is probably a strong motivator for my note-taking, as I see writing as a form of "backing up my brain". I've barely scratched the surface, but I reckon with enough data, I could even be resurrectable.
In my personal notes, I have a directory called "maxims", where I reason about a set of principles that I live my life by. There are however a certain set of mental tools that help me cope with life in general, but aren't quite at the level of certainty of a "maxim". I decided to start writing these down, and for now I'm putting them in a separate folder called "meditations" (kind of inspired by Marcus Aurelius' writing) until I come up with a better name.
The reason I bring this up is because there's a useful tool that helps me mitigate this urge to hoard personal data, namely picturing the notion that, for all we know, physics seems to indicate that our universe is time-reversible (except when you're dealing with black holes, but let's not get into that). In other words, if you know the end state of a system, and its evolution laws, you can simulate it backwards and determine a previous state, regardless of how chaotic it may be. Of course, it's one thing to calculate where a thrown ball originated from, another to un-burn a book, but physically it's all the same.
Similarly, relativity seems to indicate that if you travel at the speed of light, then all of time can exist at once, bringing up the concept of a Block Universe, and our perception of past and present is more of a side-effect of our mode of existence. To that end, I like to imagine that if certain data has existed at some point, then it is "stored", and theoretically retrievable, in the past, or the Akashic Records to use the term I learned from Ra. If not through "time-travel", then if someone were to take a perfect snapshot of our universe and simulate physics in reverse.
If you find this kind of thing interesting, I recommend Sabine Hossenfelder's book "Existential Physics", which she signed for me after a talk at the Royal Institute!
Before I get too carried away, let me write down one more story. When I was little, we had a Win 98 computer. I knew that machine inside and out. I remember all the games I used to play on it with my brothers (anyone remember the Worms games?) and I remember making little games with the old versions of PowerPoint. We made a mouse-maze game at one point, called "The A-maze-ing Maze", and in my head I can still hear the voice-over recording that I asked my brother to make for the instruction slide of the game, and his inflection of the word "maze".
I kept it in good working condition probably until I went off to university. Some people are amazed at how well-kept my projects from the early 2000s are, but that computer truly had even the earliest projects I ever worked on on it.
My mother didn't like that I always had electronics and hardware lying around in my room. She often threatened to throw my things out. I told her that this old computer was especially important to me, and I put it in my closet so that it's not in the way.
At some point, I probably came back home from uni to visit, and the computer was gone. My mother told me that she had it scrapped, and it was long gone at that point. I can't remember how I reacted, but I often remember the feeling, and I'm not sure if I'll ever get over that loss, as silly as that may sound. It truly felt like losing a part of myself.
I have a good relationship with my mother, and I've brought this up several times since then, but I don't think she quite understands what it meant to me, and she never apologised. Usually, she says that she assumed that I had already pulled out the hard drive, as I had a very tall stack of what she assumed were hard drives (they were actually CD-ROM drives).
Anyway, I'm not writing this to roast my mum! In fact, allow me to add one more anecdote (I lied, sorry) to offset the above story somewhat. One of my earliest memories of losing progress that hadn't saved was when playing the game "Amazon Trail" (a somewhat more modern spin-off of the well-known Oregon Trail). I made hours of progress on that game, and lost everything to a crash. My mother was the one who was there to comfort me as I cried.
I'm sharing this to put into words a different kind of loss, and a means of managing it. Like with the death of a person, you can imagine that they exist on in your memories. I like to think that the things I lose exist in a much more concrete way, in space-time itself, and that the loss was deterministically inevitable.
While that might not yet enable me to let go of certain losses, I can at least avoid obsessing over hoarding other data, and allowing certain things to be forgotten. Perhaps that can help someone else too!