Saturday, 14 May 2011

The bad news of infinite memory

From Challies' The Next Story
With the dawn of digital technologies and the massive cost decreases in storage, it has become more difficult to forget than to remember. ... Everything I've ever said or done on Facebook is recorded there forever; every search I've made on Google or Yahoo is there somewhere. It exists in digital memory.

Forgetting is a natural part of human experience and a natural function of the human brain. It is a feature, not a bug - one that saves us from being owned by our memories.

During the days of Communism in the Soviet Union, the KGB would stamp "to be preserved forever" on the dossiers of its political prisoners. The message was clear: the state did not and would not forget those who had betrayed her. And this shaped the people. It had to! They knew that what they had done in the past would always be held against them and at any moment could be used in prosecuting them. This is the message of our data today. What we say, what we do, the people we communicate with, the things we search for, the places we go - they are all stamped with "to be preserved forever." Our data never goes away. We can never change, never put on a new skin.

Through the long history of humanity, forgetting has been normal, and remembering has been the exception. But with today's digital technologies, the balance has shifted so that remembering is the default, and forgetting is the great exception. And can a world that never forgets be a world that truly forgives? Author Viktor Mayer-Schönberger asks, "If all our past activities, transgressions or not, are always present, how can we disentangle ourselves from them in our thinking and decision making? Might perfect remembering make us as unforgiving to ourselves as to others?"
Tim does point to some good news... but there's only so much you'll read in a blog post, so more tomorrow.

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