Arts, Entertainment & Media
July Wed 28, 2010
I remember during the Watergate hearings a prominent political commentator (I don’t remember who it was) said that the moralism of those investigating Nixon’s sins convinced him that not even St. Francis of Assisi could be elected President of the United States. I often think about this when I’m following the Senate hearings of those appointed to be Supreme Court judges and wonder how anyone would even consider accepting the nomination in the face of such scrutiny of everything he or she has ever written, said, or done.
Today the situation is worse than ever, as shown by a very interesting cover article on The New York Times Magazine last Sunday written by Jeffrey Rosen, titled “The End of Forgetting.”
The problem today for former sinners is the Internet. Simply put: apparently whatever you put on the Internet, whatever you have done to disguise your identity as you surf and chat throughout the Internet, will remain there per omnia saecula saeculorum, and there is apparently no way to erase it from the Internet’s memory. (It is depressing to think that in the year 3010 my literary abilities and analytical talents will be judged by column like this one!)
This is how Rosen summarizes the problem: “We’ve known for years that the Web allows for unprecedented voyeurism, exhibitionism, and inadvertent indiscretions, but we are only beginning to understand the costs of an age in which so much of what we say or of what others say about us, goes into our permanent – and public – digital files. The fact that the Internet never seems to forget is threatening, at an almost existential level, our ability to control our identities, to preserve the option of reinventing ourselves and starting anew, to overcome our checkered pasts.”
Rosen goes over all attempts that are being pursued to overcome this problem by “legal scholars, technologists and cyberthinkers” as they wrestle “with the first great existential crisis of the digital age.” (My favorite solution is to declare something called “Reputation Bankruptcy.” I’ve been ready for something like that for a long time!)
The problem seems also to be particularly threatening to the American ideal of the “self-made man.” America was founded by the possibilities of escaping the burden of being defined by where we were born, what “tribe” we belong to, what is the socio-economic level of our family, etc. and be able to start from scratch to create a new identity, in fact to create as many identities as we want, whenever we need or desire one. Well, this ability is what is now threatened by things like Facebook or Twitter and other instruments for “social networking.” (I don’t use any of these, so unfortunately my records will not be found at the Library of Congress in Washington where the Twitter stuff is apparently headed.)
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