Friday, July 1, 2011

Don't forget to remember

Overload! by antwerpenR, on Flickr
There's a fascinating article in the Guardian, Why we must remember to delete – and forget – in the digital age, that discusses the probelm that the net never forgets. We keep hearing stories about people who have got into trouble because long-lost indiscrete photos or Facebook entries get dredged up again with embarrassing results. Time heals all wounds is a saying that may need revision soon since the wounds can now be instantly reopened thanks to the infinite storage capacity of the net.

The article centres on an interview with Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, professor of internet governance and regulation at the University of Oxford's Internet Institute.He argues that we need to have a built-in sell-by date in our digital content to indicate when it should be automatically deleted. The owner of a photo, film or blog post should be able at any time to set a lifespan for the file. Many items should be stored indefinitely but we should be able to erase material that is no longer funny, relevant or suitable.

"He suggests that users, when saving a document they have created, would have to select an expiration date in addition to the document's name and location on their hard disk. "Expiration dates are about asking humans to reflect – if only for a few moments – about how long the information they want to store may remain valuable."

We need to focus on what is actually worth remembering and be able to filter out embarrassing trivia. The principle of forgive and forget is impossible when everything is recorded. The disadvantage of digital expiry dates is that real criminals can more easily cover their tracks, though there's nothing new there since we've always been able to burn old letters and photos.

It's also a question of digital management. Just because we have virtually unlimited storage space doesn't mean that we should save everything. Mountains of digital garbage is lying on the web simply because the owner simply doesn't know how to delete it or has forgotten it even exists. We're all guilty on that count. Let's make the choice of expiration date a standard feature and help keep what's really worth remembering.

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  antwerpenR 

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