The End of Forgetting? Not Quite


Scott Rosenberg has written a thorough takedown of Jeffrey Rosen’s NYT Magazine piece, “The End of Forgetting.” When I read it yesterday, I felt like there was something amiss about it, and Rosenberg ably diagnoses the principal issues with Rosen’s examples: they don’t really support his thesis.

But Rosenberg gets to the heart of the problem in his conclusion:

The idea that the Web has a long memory is hardly new (here’s J.D. Lasica’s piece on how “The Web Never Forgets” from 1998). But there is a flipside to this notion: Information online can be fragile and fleeting, as well. There is an entropic quality to everything that is shared online. Data gets lost; servers die; databases are corrupted; formats fall into disuse; storage media deteriorate; backups fail.

The Web is now old enough for us to know just how badly links rot over time. Much of the material from the early days of the Web is already gone. Facebook and Twitter actually make it nearly impossible for you to find older material, even stuff that you’ve contributed yourself. The more dynamic the Web gets and the more stuff we move into “the cloud,” the less confident we can be that information that once was public will remain available to the public.

On a personal note, this is the main reason I recently decided to post to Facebook and Twitter primarily via my blog. There have been so many times when I wanted to find a link I shared on Facebook, and then couldn’t, it was incredibly frustrating. I need a way to archive all of my contributions indefinitely in a searchable database, so that when I want to find something I’ve written about or linked to, I can do so in two minutes or less.

Also check out our conversation with Scott Rosenberg on the history of blogging, if you missed it last year.

Jeremy Hatch is a writer, musician, and professional bookseller leading a cheerful, aimless life in San Francisco. He is the Junior Literary Editor of the Rumpus and has a blog which he updates once in a while. More from this author →