If there is one thing the internet doesn't do, it's forget. Fun times in university aren't forgotten but often preserved forever on social networks and photo albums across the internet. How much — if at all — do you censor what goes online?
Photo by Stinkie Pinkie.
At the New York Times they have a fascinating piece about how the infinite memory of the internet means the end of "rebooting" your social, personal and professional life as you move through different stages of growth. For kids growing up in an era of social media the antics of childhood and the follies of adolescence are nearly etched in stone as their pictures, YouTube videos and other digital missives spread across the internet.
In a recent book, "Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age," the cyberscholar Viktor Mayer-Schönberger cites Stacy Snyder's case as a reminder of the importance of "societal forgetting." By "erasing external memories," he says in the book, "our society accepts that human beings evolve over time, that we have the capacity to learn from past experiences and adjust our behaviour." In traditional societies, where missteps are observed but not necessarily recorded, the limits of human memory ensure that people's sins are eventually forgotten. By contrast, Mayer-Schönberger notes, a society in which everything is recorded "will forever tether us to all our past actions, making it impossible, in practice, to escape them." He concludes that "without some form of forgetting, forgiving becomes a difficult undertaking."
While the article is filled with interesting — and definitely unsettling — accounts of how virtual activities and evidence have damned people in real life attempts to secure a new job or country of residence, the quote above encapsulates the issue perfectly. As a micro-example, I will occasionally stumble upon an old email while searching my email archives. These old emails — a thoughtful email from a deceased relative, a rude email from an old coworker — have enormous power to recall past emotional states to mind as though they had just happened. As times goes on and the digital memory we're all building grows longer and more thorough, those kinds of perfect-recall of past events will increase in frequency.
In light of this, what do you do — if anything at all — to protect yourself the effects of the internet's photographic memory? Do you use pseudonyms? Only post pictures on Facebook you don't mind your boss seeing? Skip social networks all together? Make sure you're always wearing your Richard Nixon mask when the booze is flowing and the cameras are snapping? Sound off in the comments with your methods for maintaining privacy and personal boundaries in an all-seeing internet age.
The Web Means the End of Forgetting [The New York Times]