28 July 2014

On the importance of forgetting

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The ongoing debate about Europe’s so-called ‘right to be forgotten‘ ruling on search engines has shone a light onto a key pressure point between technology and society. Simply put the ability of digital technology to remember clashes with the human societal need to forgive and forget, writes Natasha Lomas in a thoughtful piece on Techcrunch.

“There’s a problem with total recall. It doesn’t allow us as a society to forget. And that means, paradoxically, we lose something. Perfect memory engenders individual paralysis — because any legacy of personal failure is not allowed to fade into the background. And individuals are not, therefore, encouraged to evolve and move on.

Total recall shuts us down. It encourages conformity and a lack of risk taking. If trying to do something results in a failure that follows you around forever then the risk of trying is magnified — so maybe you don’t bother trying in the first place. It’s anti-creative, anti-experimental, even anti-entrepreneur.” [My emphasis]

“What’s needed, she writes, “are more creative approaches to the storage of information about private individuals.” She adds: “This is not about deleting knowledge or censoring/sanitizing behaviour; it’s about being appropriately sympathetic to the ephemeral character of (human) memory — which, being flexible rather than rigid, allows individuals and societies to move on.”

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