Review: Delete – The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age

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

The Geek, Restraining Orders, and Theories of Privacy

restrainingorderI’ve been reading some work on privacy and social networks recently, and this combined with Ratliff’s “Gone Forever: What Does It Really Take to Disappear” has led me to think about whether a geek with a website that is clearly their own (e.g. should reasonably expect restraining laws to extend to digital spaces. I’m not really talking at the level of law necessarily, but at a level of normativity: ought a restraining order limit a person from ‘following’ me online as it does from being near me in the physical world?

Restraining orders are commonly issued to prevent recurrences of abuse (physical or verbal) and stalking. While most people who have a website are unable to track who is visiting their webspace, what happens when you compulsively check your server logs (as many good geeks do) and can roughly correlate traffic to particular geo-locations. As a loose example, let’s say that you were in a small town, ‘gained’ an estranged spouse, and then notice that there are regular hits to your website from that small town after you’ve been away from it for years. Let’s go further and say that you have few/no friends in that town, and that you do have a restraining order that is meant to prevent your ex-spouse from being anywhere near you. Does surfing to your online presence (we’ll assume, for this posting, that they aren’t commenting or engaging with the site) normatively constitute a breach of an order?

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Continuums of Social Media?

socialmedialandscapeWhile it’s not the core focus of my research, I pay a lot of attention to trends and conversations about social media, and particularly focus on common standards that support the ‘semantic’ capabilities of web-enabled appliances. In this post I want to think about ways of ‘structuring’ social media along a set of continuums/formalized networks and the role of HTML 5’s semantic possibilities in pushing past the present set of social networking environments.

Social Media as a Hub

As shown in the image to the left, social platforms are situated in the middle of a set of larger social media items; platforms are integrative, insofar as they are able to make calls to other social items and enrich the platform. Under a ‘social media as hub’ continuum, we might imagine that ‘spoke-based’ media items facilitate highly targeted uses; while MMORPGs are ‘social’, they are hyper-targeted and meant to maintain their own internal infrastructure.

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Who Decides ‘Analogue’ Citizenships?

Typically when asked ‘who is responsible for setting citizenship rules’ there are two general answers that fall out. On the one hand we might hear ‘the government is responsible for setting down citizenship regulations,’ and on the other we might hear ‘the people are responsible for establishing membership guidelines.’ The latter explicitly locates power in the hands of the people, whereas the former recognises legitimised political bureaucracies and machinations are responsible for citizenship. In this post, I want to briefly look at some of the processes and theoretical discussions surrounding citizenship and immigration, and in particular how they relate to ‘Fortress Europe’ and a recent British controversy surrounding citizenship tests.

The Boundaries of Citizenship

Western nation-states have developed around liberal conceptions of citizenship. As a consequence, citizenship is associated with a particular legal status that requires members to fulfill a set of legally enforceable requirements. These requirements can include holding a certain amount of money, it may involve active participation as a citizen (i.e. remaining active in communities that one is being naturalised by volunteering, being active in local politics, etc), or being born in a geographic area.

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“Principles of cosmopolitan order” by David Held

shallow focus photography of brown globe

Photo by Ricky Gu00e1lvez on

Cosmopolitanism, broadly speaking, reflects on ethical, cultural, and political issues from the position that states and political communities are not the exclusive centers of political order or force.

Held begins his article in Brock’s and Brighouse’s The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism by differentiating between cosmopolitanism that shifts from the polis to the cosmos, and the Enlightenment’s cosmopolitan attitude of maturity and reflexivity. The former insists that individuals’ first allegiance is to humanity rather than the community, whereas for the latter cosmopolitan right “meant the capacity to present oneself and be heard within and across political communities; it was the right to enter dialogue without artificial constraint and delimitation” (11).

Held’s article is subsequently divided into four sections. The first identifies cosmopolitan principles, the second distinguishes between ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ cosmopolitanism, the third justifies cosmopolitan claims, and the fourth section sketches how to transition from justifications to law. The ultimate aim is to understand the aim and scope of cosmopolitanism.

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