back to article Prof advocates digital forgetfulness, calls Google 'Soviet'

A Harvard professor has published a paper in which he suggests that revolutions in data storage, search, and other information technologies are creating a "panoptic society", in which everything is being watched and, worse, everything which is recorded is preserved and accessible forever. Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger, associate …


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  1. Richard

    Is History history?

    Will this assign the study of History to ... err ... history? No point in studying "mistakes" of the past when you can re-invent the wheel or over again. Personally I cannot wait for the 27th June 2037 when Tony Blair's government papers/email/blogs/dodgy dossier notes, are finally all laid bare.

    I'm sure Software Alzheimer's is a good thing but I forget why.

    I seem to recall but probably have forgotten the details ... but wait

    [ standby while Googling ........... done ]

    yes "Digital preservation: a time bomb for Digital Libraries" .. so physical media and software rot might be the answer this Prof is looking for 8-)

    Or we could ignore the Prof and he'll just fade away.

  2. Ralph B

    Forgetting or Remembering

    We should put Professor Mayer-Schonberger and Gordon (MyLifeBits) Bell in a boxing ring and let them settle this matter over 15 rounds.

  3. Richard Kennaway

    "Oh no! Things are changing! We must stop it!"

    Does that summary leave anything out? Perhaps the same principle could be applied to other areas. Taking the abstract of the (associate) professor's paper as the template:

    "As humans we have the capacity to live - and to die. For millennia living was hard, and dying easy. Medical technology has inverted this. Today, living into old age has become the default. I call for what I term lifespan ecology. I propose a simple rule that reinstates the default of early death our societies have experienced for millennia, and I show how a combination of law and technology can achieve this shift."

    Or perhaps this:

    "As humans we have the capacity to eat - and to starve. For millennia getting enough to eat was hard, and starving easy. Agricultural technology has inverted this. Today, eating well has become the default. I call for what I term nutrition ecology. I propose a simple rule that reinstates the default of starving our societies have experienced for millennia, and I show how a combination of law and technology can achieve this shift."

    Or this:

    "As humans we have the capacity to travel - and to stay at home. For millennia ...

    Or this:

    "As humans we have the capacity to be ediucated - or to remain ignorant. For millennia ...

  4. Milo Tsukroff

    Those who forget ... are doomed to repeat

    Doesn't the saying go, Those who forget ... are doomed to repeat?

    If Prof. Mayer-Schoenberger gets his way, and the Harvard computer forgot that I took his course, would I be doomed to repeat his course, again, and again, and again?

    Or did the good Professor forget that some things need to be remembered for life?

    One can go on ... this is rich!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I wonder what the Professor said, or did, that he would rather the world forget? Did he once belong to a group of people that held very strong opinions on a controversial topic? Did he blurt out something regrettable at a party, or unwisely reveal his true opinions in earshot of a recording device? We should be told.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surprised to see the harsh reactions to this

    Yeah, sure, bloggers volunteer, just like 'old' media columnists, to have their ramblings preserved for as long as people would care to preserve it.

    The people who read those blogs, columns, whatever, though, made no such agreement that they would like to have their intake of said material recorded forever.

    Likewise, to all the mental midgets who have been using Gmail as a drop point for all their other email accounts should probably feel a bit uncomfortable that Google now has their own indexed copies of all your correspondence.

    In twenty years, Google, and other data warehousing operations, will have political intelligence and manipulation abilities that Karl Rove can only dream of today.

    You were a bit of a porn hound when you were sixteen? Too bad you're trying to be a congressman now.

    You once put in a search for "DVD backup?" The MPAA's lawyers would like a word with you.

    Ever joke over an instant messenger about smoking pot/pirating software/driving with expired tags?

    Ever get a naughty pic from your girlfriend?

    *Everyone* will someday have some aspects of their life which they would prefer remain private stored in some massive database, and soon. The only purpose of such a database is as a weapon, for discrediting or embarrassing people and organizations which threaten the interests which operate the databases, and their clients.

    Who among us can say they would want every email they've ever sent, every website they've ever looked at, and every dumb thing they've ever done recorded and preserved, ready to be dropped into public view at the strategic whim of our modern feudal lords?

    Government records are one thing, personal records are entirely another. I don't think the professor is correct when he says that new laws are the answer, however.

    The answer, as it always has been, is that internet connected people need to take initiative for protecting their own privacy, the same way they've learned to protect things like their bank info, phone records, and the like. To simply assume digital records *don't* track every motion you make is naive in the extreme, and will be repaid at your later expense.

  7. Andy Bright

    History is very often forgotten

    Or more accurately completely unlearned (if that's a real word). The only history taught, and the only history that ever has been taught, is revisionist history. The kind where the state alters, edits and swaps things around a bit to make it conform to the message it wants to impart. Every society does this, and let's be honest, it's impossible to impart any sort of history without the tiniest bit of bias.

    As for creating laws and software to forget things. Forget it. It seems the professor has missed that recently many laws have been passed to do the exact opposite. For some reason I can't quite fathom it seems the governments of Britain and the US are run by paranoid schizophrenics.

    They think everyone is out to get them, and their every citizen in their respective nations is a criminal - or at least a potential criminal.

    The more cynical and sinister thought would be to have on hand a ready database of dirt to use should one of the little people actually gain some kind of influence or power.

    Neither left nor right seem to see anything wrong with recording everything everybody does or says. They both seem to think that having massive databases filled with the DNA and private information of every citizen is a great thing. Both sides of the political spectrum are in love with thinking every internet user is a terrorist paedophile waiting to shoot up a school, before snatching some kids and blowing up Parliament or Congress.

    So it stands to reason we should all be watched, and everything we say recorded forever.

  8. Andrew Murphy

    Soviet Google?

    In Soviet Google websites search you!

  9. War Monger

    Soviet Google may not be so bad

    Google delivers approximately 2,390,000 results in response to the query "men's shirt". Who wants to sort through all of them? Soviet Google might deliver only one.

    On the other hand, who wants to wait in a queue for the page to load.

  10. J

    What some of you forget... that a person who can remember every single thing seen or read or heard is called an "idiot savant" (or, in these PC times, just "savant"). Have you ever seen Rain Man? Well, I haven't, but I happen to have watched a show about the real guy that movie was based on. The guy can "read" a page in a few seconds, and later recite the whole book back to you with >95% accuracy. But he does not understand a thing. He can "sing" a melody he's heard just once as a kid. He sounds like a robot when he speaks. When a scientist asked him to say, in a different way, "George W. Bush is no rocket scientist", he said that Bush did not possess the knowledge to launch things into space (or something like that... I forgot! Got more important things to think about, I guess :-). He can't get metaphors or jokes (after more than 50 years he's starting to improve though). I believe his name is Kim Peek (or maybe Pek, lazy to Soviet Google now).

    In short, we're only intelligent because we can weed out what's important and worthy to keep. Does that apply to the whole of society? Will we be unable to "be intelligent" because we're drowning in data (most of which pure garbage)?

    What were we talking about again?



  11. Rodrigo Rollan

    1984 anyone?

    "today we are at war with Oceania, and we always have been".....Advocating forgetfullness is opening the door to our beloved governants to choose what is or is not true (even more than they do today) to their conveninence. Just Ask USAs government: they´ll be happy to delete any comments on Iraq´s WMD (remember Bu$h saying I have no idea were you got the impression that we said that Iraq was related to 9-11).

    I personally don´t give a rats arse if ANYONE checks what I did, do or will do. If I do something and wish to be anonymous there are 100 ways to do it.

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