If we record everything and forget nothing, will we, as a society, find it harder to emphatise and forgive? If we record everything and forget nothing, will our digital selves / identities live on even after our death?
I don’t offer any answers or advice on these issues. I only want to share my musings and questions that I think more and more people these days are starting to ask themselves, too.
These questions of mine were triggered by a few things:
- Thinking about disruptive technologies that are starting to emerge or go mainstream, such as augmented reality and wearable computing (Google Glass). On my last blog post, I talked more about wearable computing from the point of view of social business. But in relation to my questions above, I’m interested more in how such technologies increase our capability of recording everything we do, and also mediate reality (e.g. overlaying a visual layer, or performing actions based on sensors).
- Episode 3, season 1 of the British series ‘Black Mirror’ (The Entire History of you) where people have implants called ‘grain’ which lets them record and playback everything they see and hear. Even babies can wear it. Imagine a world where all your memories are stored and accessible for viewing by you and everyone else you choose to share them with. All your actions are scrutinised and viewable, all your mistakes archived but never fade way. [Side note: Black Mirror just blows me away. Each and every single episode is a brilliantly crafted short story on screen that reflects our relationships with technology.]
- Episode 1, season 2 of Black Mirror (Be Right Back) where a woman resurrects her lover using data from his online and social networks. Pretty far-off, you think? Not really as the next point reveals.
- The emergence of apps and networks to sustain our digital selves even after our death. E.g.: If I Die (Facebook app that enables you to create a message or video that would only be released after your death), Dead Soci.al (send messages to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn after your death), and _LivesOn (your tweets are analysed and the program learns from your syntax and preferences; you can also choose an executor to your will who decides to keep your account live.)
- Re-reading a blog post from 2010 (Digital forgiveness in a world that does not forget) that raised the same questions above. It was my reaction to the article, “The Web Means the End of Forgetting” by Jeffrey Rosen (published July 19, 2010 on the New York Times). Here are some of the points I raised back then:
“…how do we best live — and let live — in a world where “…the Internet records everything and forgets nothing — where every online photo, status update, Twitter post and blog entry by and about us can be stored forever?”
Isn’t it ironic that we even as we now supposedly live in a tolerant and permissive time, where second chances can be granted, we are actually all quick to brand a digital scarlet letter. Rosen nails it: nowadays, the worst thing that an individual or organisation has done is the first thing we remember.
I believe in the value of transparency and practice accountability, and I think the social web has done the world an invaluable service of helping expose injustice and other wrongdoings. However, the social web is just like a bullet: it fires where it is shot. The more important question is: who holds the gun? Who controls these technologies and what do we use it for? As much as individuals and responsible citizens have to be critical and expose wrongdoings, we also need to nurture the capacity to forgive (ourselves and others), reinvent our selves and help others reinvent themselves.”
As I said, this post is more about musings and questions on how technology and our online/social selves are interacting, and how the dynamics of this relationship impacts society as a whole. However, there is one thing that I am certain of: technology is now changing faster than we as individuals and as a society can adjust. We may be increasing our capacity to record, remember, and scrutinise, but are slow in forgiving and developing new forms of empathy. We are now extending the boundaries of online and social to beyond the grave, but we are still struggling with our segmented identities on- and offline.
Thank you for reading until the end and listening while I think out loud.Photo source: http://farm1.staticflickr.com/184/485758282_32b07bf756_b_d.jpg, http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelgrogan/485758282/sizes/l/