Though Europe's new "right to be forgotten" rules have created an uproar, it's easy to forget just how new the idea of total recall is. Writing at TechCrunch, Natasha Lomas contributes a couple of important points to a discussion largely moored to what is still a new phenomenon, a phenomenon that would see documentation and data live on in perpetuity.
I like how she connects the issue to creative enterprise:
Total recall shuts us down. It encourages conformity and a lack of risk taking. If trying to do something results in a failure that follows you around forever then the risk of trying is magnified — so maybe you don’t bother trying in the first place. It’s anti-creative, anti-experimental, even anti-entrepreneur. To cite a Steve Jobs-ism, it’s anti-foolish.
Name the human society where total recall is considered the norm. It’s far more human to forget. Forgetting allows for new beginnings. As a creative medium, a little forgetting goes a long way. While too much recall smacks of dystopia, or prison, or the dragnet digital surveillance programs set up in secret by our own governments. It’s hardly an accident that corporate power and state machinery are aligning along the same digital fault lines here.
An ability to forget, whether it's simply to move beyond a business failure or avoid information overload, is important to human flourishing, as Lomas writes. And the notion that total recall, rather than liberating us, would "shut us down" rings true to me. There are of course real public policy and legal questions being sorted out in Europe as Google tries to comply with the new continental rules. But the temptation to believe that the next piece of information or data point will make the argument or prove beyond any doubt the veracity of any particular belief is a particularly human weakness, and one that is exploited, for example, by social media. It's why long hours scanning Facebook updates leaves so many people so anxious. The picture is never complete. Even science, which many mistakenly believe seeks certainty, depends, rather, on an accumulation of evidence, not on finality.
The dogged entrepreneur and artist alike must be fools. They must believe in their specific cases that the past doesn't matter. True, depending on that past it may or may not prove beneficial in the long run. But in general, the habits that have always characterized humanity at its best - a grace under hardship or a willingness to extend mercy where none may be merited - have always required on a willingness to forget. It's effective precisely because it is extralegal.
The alternative, I think, would enslave us to reasons.
Festival Passes are on sale now, but please don't wait too long! We're expecting to sell out again this year, and the price for a pass will go up on Sept. 2. The complete agenda and speaker line-up is available on the IdeaFestival web site.