I've seen a few links to this:
The rise of fast processors and cheap storage means that remembering,once incredibly difficult for humans, has become simple. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, a professor in Harvard's JFK School of Government, argues that this shift has been bad for society, and he calls insteadfor a new era of "forgetfulness."
This notion is not new, of course: Bowker and Star discuss "organizational forgetting" in their 2000 book Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences. But Mayer-Schönberger takes the argument further, according to the gloss on Ars Technica:
Why would we want our machines to "forget"? Mayer-Schönberger suggests that we are creating a Benthamist panopticon by archiving so many bits of knowledge for so long. The accumulated weight of stored Google searches, thousands of family photographs, millions of books, credit bureau information, air travel reservations, massive government databases, archived e-mail, etc., can actually be a detriment to speech and action, he argues.
"If whatever we do can be held against us years later, if all our impulsive comments are preserved, they can easily be combined into a composite picture of ourselves," he writes in the paper. "Afraid how our words and actions may be perceived years later and taken out of context, the lack of forgetting may prompt us to speak less freely and openly."
In other words, it threatens to make us all politicians.
I've been talking about this same phenomenon for a few years, including in my plenary session at Computers and Writing 2006, but I've tried to differentiate between the panopticon and what I've called the agora, the state in which anyone can review anyone else's actions. Note that some people are embracing the idea of reunifying the diverse factors of their online identities through things such as lifestreams, and these include things more intrusive and personal than what you might find in Google searches: software usage through Wakoopa, music choices through last.fm, browsing through Clutzr. That is, a segment of the online population does not fear the consequences of archiving knowledge, they actively seek and embrace it as a way of textualizing and preserving their identities. They don't want the sort of forgetting that Mayer-Schönberger describes. They want the ability to create what Latour calls "oligopticons," narrow but detailed views of specific experiences that are open to multiple people.
The panopticon is an easy metaphor here, but it is not the appropriate metaphor.
With that in mind, Mayer-Schönberger's solution seems hamfisted:
In contrast to omnibus data protection legislation, Mayer-Schönberger proposes a combination of law and software to ensure that most data is "forgotten" by default. A law would decree that "those who create software that collects and stores data build into their code not only the ability to forget with time, but make such forgetting the default." Essentially, this means that all collected data is tagged with a new piece of metadata that defines when the information should expire.
The law -- especially the kind of law proposed here -- is too much of a blunt instrument here. On the one hand, this is not going to be perceived as a benefit to those lifestreamers and others who have embraced the notion of the oligopticon. Yes, it provides an opt-out clause for those who want to preserve their data, but it assumes that the default should be forgetting -- which is an assumption I would question, especially after reviewing the lifestreaming literature.
On the other hand, the law is almost guaranteed not to work well. It overlays the already considerable requirements on service providers with other requirements that could be difficult to interpret and implement. It imposes an additional burden on service providers operating lawfully in countries that have embraced this law. It does nothing to address countries that have not embraced the law.
My prediction: This notion may gain some traction, but not for long. It will be fought by most of the industry and opposed, at least passively, by a significant minority of users located in democracies. Instead, people in democracies will develop new strategies to manage their online personalities, perhaps becoming "politicians," perhaps developing plausible deniability. Those unfortunate enough to live in totalitarian countries will have to develop alternate strategies for navigating this landscape.Escaping the data panopticon: Prof says computers must learn to "forget"
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