Tagged: moiral panic

Moral panic: computer memory is bad for you! – rebuttal

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, whose interview on Spark was the subject of a somewhat testy post on Contrarian yesterday, has returned fire.

I saw your blog entry on my interview with CBC and my book “Delete”. From your entry it is obvious that you have not read the book. [True.] That’s perfectly fine – except that you then move to render a flawed judgment on the book.

Viktor Mayer-SchönbergerTo start with, the example that I used in the interview is not about photographic memory, but about a biological condition of a very small number of people who cannot forget – or at least remember a great deal more than average humans. Photographic memory is very different – and susceptible to Dan Schacter’s “seven sins of memory”.

Contrary to what you seem to insinuate I have not blamed Google for Andrew Feldmar’s difficulties; rather I used his case to highlight the fact that with the help of the digital tools that surround us institutions and organizations can now – at very low cost – store and retrieve massive amounts of information about others. In the informational privacy literature this has been well described as potentially leading to power imbalances, which it is argued ought to worry us.

However, in my book – as well as in the interview! – I make clear that my major concern has to do with how humans perceive time, and place information in a temporal context; it is this central element, linked to research of cognitive psychologists that your blog entry misses.

Thus, your judgment that I am guilty of category error is simply incorrect – especially since the central message of the book is emphatically not that technology is to blame, or could provide a simple solution, but that changes in human behavior facilitated by information economics and technological change have made us forget remembering, and that it will take us humans to reset this balance.

In the spirit of fact-based discussion, perhaps you might be even interested in reading the book?

It’s true that I did not read the book, nor did I purport to have done so. My post explicitly responded to the interview, and mentioned the book only by way of introductory credentials.

I hope people will listen to the interview or download it; encouraging readers to do so was one purpose of the post. They can judge for themselves. To my ear, on two careful listenings, there was a clear tone of alarmed hand-wringing about a technological process that has got out of control. It strikes me as a subtle variant of the “Internet pedophiles will ensnare your kids” stories so favored by newspapers.

The ever tactful Nora Young also responded:

Nora Yound 1 s ccI think new technologies of communication do change the way we think, remember, and relate to one another.  I suppose I’m a McLuhanite in that sense.  I would say the same about the move from oral to written communication, for instance, so I don’t think it’s really uncharacteristic for Spark, or indeed, part of a moral panic.  More than that, though, what I love about Spark is that it’s an opportunity to air provocative ideas about technology, and hopefully inspire debate and dialogue, of which your post is an excellent example.