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Should perfect digital memory have an expiration date?

Written by Elyse Eidman-Aadahl
July 18, 2010

In this video, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger discusses his view that digital data, which allows for perfect memory, ought to come with an opportunity to forget.  If we cannot forget, he argues, we cannot forgive.  Mayer-Schonberger is Director of Information Policy Research for the National University of Singapore.  Click the image to go to the video.

Viktor  Mayer-Schönberger

“[W]e humans are biologically programmed to forget.  We forget most of what we experience every day.  That’s a way by which we can abstract and generalize and evolve and grow and rid ourselves of stuff that is no longer relevant to us.  

What is interesting is that if we can’t do that, then we become burdened by the details of our past to the point that it makes us indecisive and it shapes the way we decide.  We know a little bit about that because there’s a small number of people who cannot forget.  They have a biological difficulty of forgetting….Many of those people who have difficulties forgetting hate the ability to not get rid of the old.  They remember all of the mistaken decisions of their past all the time and that troubles them a great deal and it inhibits their ability to decide and act in the present and to think in the future.  

And so comprehensive digital memory might actually create that for us.  It might give us a sense of not forgetting anymore and thereby preventing us humans from generalizing, abstracting, evolving, growing, and also accepting others to change over time, to evolve and to grow.  And without forgetting, we don’t have an ability to forgive.”

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