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Undergraduate Lecture Series (H4): The Value of Forgetting

With Professor Viktor Mayer-Schönberger
Date & Time:
16:00:00 - 17:30:00,
Monday 7 February, 2011


In the analog world of yesterday, forgetting was the default position. It was somewhat harder to remember than to forget, so unless we put effort into it, such as in taking notes or storing text, information disappeared. Not anymore. In tomorrow’s digital world, the default will be remembering. The efficiency of remembering is gaining ground because of the lower costs of memory devices and the accuracy of digital technologies, which can replicate content endlessly, creating the potential for a future of perfect remembering. Taken to its logical conclusion, this capability could create a dystopian scenario of self-censorship that moves beyond contemporary conceptions of a surveillance society.

Building on Bentham’s notion of the panopticon, digital memory is extending the ‘mechanism of panoptic control’ into the past. However, this problem can be addressed through a variety of legal and technical initiatives, such as creating a means for users to place an expiration date on information they post.

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