Viktor Mayer-Schonberger’s new book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age (2009) is a powerful effort to rethink basic principles of computing that threaten humanity’s epistemological nature. In essence, he tries get impress upon us the importance of adding ‘forgetfulness’ to digital data collection process. The book is masterfully presented. It draws what are arguably correct theoretical conclusions (we need to get a lot better at deleting data to avoid significant normative, political, and social harms) while drawing absolutely devastatingly incorrect technological solutions (key: legislating ‘forgetting’ into all data formats and OSes). In what follows, I sketch the aim of the book, some highlights, and why the proposed technological solutions are dead wrong.
The book is concerned with digital systems defaulting to store data ad infinitum (barring ‘loss’ of data on account of shifting proprietary standards). The ‘demise of forgetting’ in the digital era is accompanied by significant consequences: positively, externalizing memory to digital systems preserves information for future generations and facilitates ease of recalls through search. Negatively, digital externalizations dramatically shift balances of power and obviate temporal distances. These latter points will become the focus of the text, with Mayer-Schonberger arguing that defaulting computer systems to either delete or degrade data over time can rebalance the challenges facing temporal obviations that presently accompany digitization processes. Continue reading
I’ve been watching with some interest the new Artist 2 Fan 2 Artist project, recently started up by Jon Newton and Billy Bragg. The intent of the site is to bring artists and fans together and encourage these parties to speak directly with one another, without needing to pass through intermediaries such as producers, labels, public relations groups, managers, and so on. It will be interesting to see how the dialogue develops.
One of the key elements of the site that interest me the discussion of paying artists (and other content creators); how can we avoid demonizing P2P users while at the same time allocating funds to artists/copyright owners in a responsible manner. On October 5th, this topic was broached under the posting ‘In Favour of a Music Tax‘, and I wanted to bring some of my own comments surrounding the idea of a music tax to the forefront of my own writing space, and the audience here.
I think that an ISP-focused levy system is inappropriate for several reasons: it puts too much authority and control over content analysis than carriers need, puts carriers at risk when they misidentify content, and would make carriers (for-profit content delivery corporations) in charge of monitoring content without demanding consumers that pay ‘full value’ for content moving through their networks. This last point indicates that an ISP-based levy puts ISPs in a conflict of interest (at least in the case of the dominant ISPs in Canada). Another solution is required.
I’m in the middle of a massive reading streak for my comprehensive exams, but I’m trying to sneak in some personal reading at the same time. The first book in that ‘extra’ reading is Anderson’s “The Long Tail”, which focuses on the effect that shifting to digital systems has for economic scarcities, producers, aggregators, and consumers.
The key insight that Anderson brings to the table is this: with the birth of digital retail and communication systems, customers can find niche goods that appeal to their personal interests and tastes, rather than exclusively focusing on goods that retailers expect will be hits. This means that customers can follow the ‘long tail’, or the line of niche goods that are individually less and less likely to sell in a mass retail environment.
There are several ‘drivers’ of the long tail:
- There are far more niche goods than ‘hits’ (massively popular works), and more and more niche goods are being produced with the falling costs of production and distribution in various fields.
- Filters are more and more effective, which means that consumers can find niches they are interested in.
- There are so many niche items that, collectively, they can comprise a market rivaling hits.
- Without distribution bottlenecks, the ‘true’ elongated tail of the present Western economic reality is made apparent.