Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More on forgetting: Or, genie, get back in the bottle

Earlier this summer Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, made a splash by proposing that we need ways to forget, including public policy that causes online records to expire. This recent article in the Boston Globe takes that football and runs with it, implying via a Jorge Luis Borges quote that human beings need to forget. In his post referring to the article, Andrew Sullivan summarizes: "forgetting is what it means to be human."

I disagree. Being human above all means learning how to mediate one's own behavior and thought with physical and psychological tools. The basic things that we teach in school -- reading, writing, arithmetic, hygiene, citizenship -- have to be taught because they are unnatural. Mediated memory is yet another example of this. Yes, the recent changes in what gets recorded will make people uncomfortable, just as other technological changes have caused upheaval. (Print comes to mind.) But rather than ungrinding the hamburger, we can do other things:
According to Danah Boyd, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, the solution is not to fight the ubiquity of memory but to adapt. "No amount of structural intervention is going to combat this," Boyd says. "People, particularly younger people, are going to come up with coping mechanisms. That's going to be the shift, not any intervention by a governmental or technological body."
The advantages of amnesia - The Boston Globe

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