The Right to Be Forgiven

The “right to be forgotten” is stupid.

It can’t be enforced. Let’s say you’ve tweeted something fifteen years ago, something you found funny and daring at the time, but it turned out to be stupid and misguided in the opinion of today’s you, and you regret ever typing those words. And let’s say I remember that tweet. You can make Twitter delete it, you can even make Web Archive delete it, you can make Google remove it from its caches and indexes, but as long as you don’t have that MiB flashy stick you can not make me forget it. The more you’ll try, the better I’ll remember it. And you can’t make me keep it to myself, either. It’s not your information anymore; you’ve made it publicly available, and I incorporated it into my knowledge. You can’t take my knowledge from me.

Of course, you don’t want your employer to dig up that tweet and fire you because of it. You don’t want your new friends to think worse of you because of that tweet. You don’t want your new spouse to think you’re a lesser person because of that tweet. It’s understandable, although why you would ever marry a person that’s not ready to accept you at face value with all of your histories is beyond my comprehension. So you want to make it as if that tweet never existed in the first place. The right to be forgotten. The most infantile thing to demand.

Nobody is born perfect. Everybody makes mistakes at some point in their lives. It’s ok to grow up, it’s actually the right thing to do. And of course, nobody wants their high-school drunk blunders that actually hurt no one to define their whole subsequent lives. But with those blunders documented on Instagram and findable in your former roommate’s blog, they can never really be gone from the collective memory. Nor can they be forced out of it.

The whole situation reminds me of a rural village I once visited. It didn’t have more than a dozen houses, and those families lived there basically forever. Everybody knew everyone, everyone’s parents and grandparents, everyone’s lies and cheats, everyone’s mistakes and betrayals. They had to forgive each other eventually, or their life as a community would become impossible, so they did, and went on living with each other, despite still knowing all those things about each other.

The world resembles that village now. Everybody knows and remembers everything about everyone, or at least can get that knowledge from Uncle Internet the next minute, sometimes even without asking. So we can turn to those villagers for a good way to cope.

What we actually need is a right to be forgiven.

And for that to work, we ourselves need to start forgiving. That is what adolescents are notoriously bad at, so the adolescent mindset that seems to have captured half the world needs to go. Which might well result in other benefits…

Grow up, people!

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