Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Useful Void: The Art of Forgetting in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing

As humans we have the capacity to remember ­ and to forget. For millennia remembering was hard, and forgetting easy. By default, we would forget. Digital technology has inverted this. Today, with affordable storage, effortless retrieval and global access remembering has become the default, for us individually and for society as a whole. We store our digital photos irrespective of whether they are good or not - because even choosing which to throw away is too time-consuming, and keep different versions of the documents we work on, just in case we ever need to go back to an earlier one. Google saves every search query, and millions of video surveillance cameras retain our movements. In this article Viktor Mayer-Schönberger analyses this shift and links it to technological innovation and information economics. Then Viktor suggests why we may want to worry about the shift, and call for what he terms data ecology. In contrast to others he does not call for comprehensive new laws or constitutional adjudication. Instead proposes a simple rule that reinstates the default of forgetting our societies have experienced for millennia, and shows how a combination of law and technology can achieve this shift. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is Associate Professor of Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government / Harvard University. His work focuses on business, legal, and policy issues of the new economy. He is also an expert on the European Union, especially its regulatory framework and business-government relations.

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