Our two-day conference is coming to a close with a keynote by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger who is soon to be joining the faculty of the Oxford Internet Institute as Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation.
Viktor talked about the theme of his recent book“Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age”(a webcast of this keynote will be available soon on the OII website but you can also listen to a previous talk here). It touches on many of the recent debates about information that has been published on the web in some context and which might suddenly come back to us in a completely different context, e.g. when applying for a job and being confronted with some drunken picture of us obtained from Facebook.
Viktor puts that into a broad perspective, contrasting the two themes of “forgetting” and “remembering”. He convincingly argues how for most of human history, forgetting has been the default. This state of affairs has experienced quite a dramatic change with the advances of the computer technology, data storage and information retrieval technologies available on a global information infrastructure. Now remembering is the default as most of the information stored digitally is available forever and in multiple places.
What he sees at stake is power because of the permanent threat of our activities are being watched by others – not necessarily now but possibly even in the future – can result in altering our behaviour today. What is more, he says that without forgetting it is hard for us to forgive as we deny us and others the possibility to change.
No matter to what degree you are prepared to follow the argument, the most intriguing question is how the current state of remembering could be changed to forgetting. Viktor discusses a number of ideas that pose no real solution:
Instead Viktor wants to establish mechanisms that ease forgetting, primarily by making it a little bit more difficult to remember. Ideas include
Whatever the actual tool, the default should be forgetting and to prompt its users to reflect and choose about just how long a certain piece of information should be valid.
Nice closing statement: “Let us remember to forget!“
Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Policy and Internet Blog, nor of the Oxford Internet Institute.