Digital Forgetting and Understanding


Julian Gewirtz
Julian Gewirtz

Earlier this week, the Washington Post published an article by Julian Gewirtz and Adam Kern. I enjoyed their discussion of digital remembering.

Digital Longevity

Julian and Adam note:

We just graduated from college. We’ve got thousands of pictures on Instagram, conversations on Gchat and status updates on Facebook to show for it — a digital record of that long week, seemingly each fragment of thought and every step of the day we graduated.

Adam B Kern
Adam B Kern

They are members of the first generation to have grown up with the Internet …

The first generation that got suspended from school because of a photo of underage drinking posted online. The first generation that could talk in chat rooms to anyone, anywhere, without our parents knowing. The first generation that has been “tracked” and “followed” and “shared” since childhood.

Julian and Adam observe that their generation face significant issues about digital longevity … “our former selves may live on beyond their real existence”. They point out that “Thanks to technology, someone can know more about you than you know about yourself — or, at least, think that they do”.

They add:

Nearly the entire lives of our generation have been catalogued and stored in servers, with the most mature and carefully thought-through utterances indistinguishable, as data, from thoughtless pre-teen rants. We gave much of this information willingly, if half-wittingly. A fact of being a young person today is that our data are out there forever, and we must find ways to deal with that.

They propose three ways of dealing with digital longevity. I like their third path:

we learn to care less about what people did when they were younger, less mature or otherwise different.

This requires that their generation takes the lead:

in negotiating a “cultural treaty” endorsing a new value, related to privacy, that secures our ability to have a past captured in data that is not held to be the last word but seen in light of our having grown up in a way that no one ever has before. Growing up, that is, on the record.

Digital Forgetting


I thought Julian and Adam brought a refreshing insight to the discussion of digital identity. We do need to find ways of addressing the social e-portfolio that we create when we access online resources that will curate us in the Cloud. I like the idea of a cultural treaty.

In other times, communities held a shared oral history as the basis for their selective indignation.

I am thinking that oral and digital memories can be used with sensitivity, recognising that personal identity is dynamic. Perhaps digital forgetting and understanding will be the way to do this, as Julian and Adam suggest.

This does not mean that any form of online behaviour is unconditionally acceptable.  In a digital age, we all have responsibilities as members of a tolerant, civil society.

Photo Credits

Julian Gewirtz (LinkedIn)

Adam B Kern (The Harvard Crimson, Gregory Johnston)

Sharing music, Roman style (Ed Yourdon, CC BY-SA 2.0) (For a note about the use of this picture in other blog posts see here.)


Julian and Adam appear in The 22 Most Impressive Students At Harvard Right Now.

Trust, connectedness and kindness

The fourth Scanlon-Monash Index of Social Cohesion in Australia was published last week.

There was a lot of discussion about this year’s index.

I enjoyed listening to Andrew Markus’s analysis of the data but noted with concern that “there has been consistent downward movement since 2007 in indicators of acceptance and rejection”.

In a Fact Sheet about the Index I noticed that there has

In an interview with Radio National, Andrew observed that:

The major area of concern relates to falling levels of trust and falling levels of connectedness and I believe that there’s a real issue here, unlike, Europe where there’s huge economic problems, we don’t have those huge economic problems. So we should really be able to address some of these issues to do with you know alienation and I think it’s very important that we do so.

I wondered on hearing this interview if daily acts of kindness were part of the pathway to re-establish trust and connectedness.

I think a scheme being developed between Wintringham and Wallara, in Victoria,  embodies the transformations that can occur through daily kindness and compassion. The Eunice Seddon Home is a unique aged care facility that will allow disabled children to live with their elderly parents. A report about the Home notes:

For the first time ageing people with disabilities can transition into ‘aged care’ supported by Wallara and Wintringham, with minimum disruption and distress. In addition, people living with older carers are increasingly going to out-live their parents. Parents’ worst fears are based on the lack of facilities available for their adult children when they are no longer able to care for them. These parents and others like them, could live in the Eunice Seddon Home on the same site as their family member with a disability, supported by Wallara. This integrated support promotes continuity of the family group and provides vital peace of mind for the parents.

I think voluntary effort and kindness are deeply embedded in the ‘play spirit’ that so attracts me. I do think we have a civic responsibility to step up when gaps appear in support for each other.

Kindness is a wonderful antidote to disenfranchisement. I imagine that acts of humanitarian kindness touch raw nerves particularly when they take place in a contested space like immigration.

In the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Observations from visit to Curtin Immigration Detention Centre and key concerns across the detention network it is noted that:

The Commission’s longstanding concerns about Australia’s immigration detention system have escalated over the past two years as the number of people in detention has grown, people have been detained for longer periods, incidents of self-harm and suicide have increased and riots, protests and hunger strikes have become common.

The Commission urges the Australian Government to end the current system of mandatory and indefinite detention, and to make greater use of community-based alternatives that allow for the protection of the community while at the same time ensuring that people are treated in line with human rights standards. Community-based alternatives can be cheaper and more effective in facilitating immigration processes, and are more humane than holding people in detention facilities for prolonged periods.

Regardless of how or where they arrive in Australia, all people are entitled to protection of their human rights, including the right to seek asylum, the right not to be subjected to arbitrary detention, and the right to be treated with humanity and respect if they are deprived of their liberty.

Perhaps common humanity is the way to send the Index north again.

Photo Credits

Stepping Stones over the River Mole, Box Hill, Dorking

Sometimes, you just have to stop and rest for a while

The kindness of strangers