Monday, November 9, 2009

The Archival Panopticon

In “The Virtue of Hitting 'Delete,' Permanently,” a recent episode of Talk of the Nation, Viktor Mayer-Schonberger discusses his book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Mayer-Schonberger argues that, in the analog age, we used to make choices about what to remember; forgetting was the default. Now, in the digital age—which gives us a “digital Panopticon”—the default is to remember. But forgetting helps us shed irrelevant information and unwanted details, and it helps us generalize and abstract: “rather than being tethered to an ever-more-detailed past [forgetting] helps us act and evaluate and live in the present.”

See also: “Do digital diaries mess up your brain?.” Digital technologies create opportunities for “greater, moment-by-moment record-keeping,” but:
Being able to compress a lot of experiences and summarize them well is part of the very nature of human intelligence, said Douglas Hofstadter … "It's about finding the essence of things," he said. "It's not about restoring everything. It's about reducing things in complexity until they're manageable and understandable."

Image: Panopticon blueprint by Jeremy Bentham, 1791