So here’s a weird sensation. I’m trying to install a Photoshop upgrade at two in the morning, because i’m jetlagged and can’t concentrate on work but can’t sleep either so I’m procrastinating. And in order to install said upgrade I’m going to have to restart my browser. So I start the process of closing down windows and tabs and adding them to a little bookmarks stash and I’m about forty-five tabs down (and about half-way through the process) when I start finding clumps of windows that I opened during presentations at ETCon. One browser window is full tabs stuffed with ubicomp and networked objects sites, another is full of robot-related material. As I grab the URLs and stuff them in a folder for later, I start to realise how clearly I remember navigating to each of the sites and how I’d determined to keep them for later. Suddenly I’m back in the auditoria, next to Phil and Paul keeping notes and listening for the hum of the infinity of extension cords that litter the carpet around us.
If they’d all been hand-outs, I’d have them in my hands – little grubby bits of paper stacked in piles here and there, clogging up bags and boxes and bookcases. Every so often I’d glance inside them to find one thing in particular and a wave of nostalgia and association would fill my head. That is – at least – until I finally snapped and threw them all away. Now until this point I’d always assumed that the web was getting rid of interactions like that – that our relationships to sites were transitory and fleeting – but now I’m not so sure. The act of “saving” and the act of “having open” are gradually merging and I can foresee a time when I haven’t closed my browser in months rather than weeks and in which I’ve managed to accumulate thousands of open windows across a whole range of applications. The stuff near the surface will be the stuff I’ve been working on recently, but I’ll be able to do an archaeology of my own browsing when I’m bored and filter through the collected papers, throwing away the things that no longer have any relevance to my life. Will we start wanting to transfer documents in their open states between computers when we upgrade? Will we expect a computer desktop to be as persistent and never-changing as a wooden one? When someone famous dies, will the biographer go through their enormous accumulated browser cache to find out what they were interested in five or ten years ago?