Marcel Proust and the right to be remembered
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the right to be forgotten on the internet, after a landmark court case. European Union judges ruled that Google should remove a link to a story about the auctioning of a Spanish businessman’s house in 1998 to pay his debts to the government. The story itself, on a Spanish newspaper website, remains up, as it is a media organisation, with particular rights.
Since the ruling, less than a month ago, Google has received 41,000 further requests to take down links to material, from (amongst others) politicians, paedophiles (12% of cases) and murderers. As in the Spanish case none of these are incorrect or untrue stories – they are simply facts that the people concerned would rather were removed from public view. Therefore in my view, this is a real threat to one of the key tenets of the internet – it provides access to all information and lets people make up their own minds about someone’s character or views.
The whole case, and the plethora of information available today, would have been of real interest to the French novelist Marcel Proust. Famed for his seven volume, unfinished, epic, A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), his whole work focuses on memory, and in particular the involuntary connections between cues and recollections of the past. In its most famous episode, the taste of a madeleine cake summons up memories of the narrator’s childhood.
Essentially, Proust was a connoisseur of memory, talking about the need to pick particular episodes, mull them over and develop them individually and at length. In contrast, he sees life as a spinning top that turns so fast that all the specific colours turn to a mix of grey. The ability of the internet to collect huge amounts of information would have simultaneously enthralled and dismayed Proust, giving him an insurmountable treasure trove to mine. We’ve now got a spinning top on fast forward.
But Proust’s central idea of focusing on remembering is probably even more important today than in his lifetime. We’re bombarded with information and sensations, which leads to the danger of swapping reflection for instant action, before moving onto the next thing. You can see this in knee-jerk reactions to events on social media, with peaks of controversy swiftly forgotten by the population at large.
I’d argue that rather than the right to be forgotten, what we need is the right to remember, with people forced to stop, think and analyse their feelings and memories, rather than rushing into an instant response. It’d certainly make people calmer and more thoughtful (and perhaps nicer)………..
In fact, social media and the internet could help solve the problem it creates – how about a service that randomly sends you emails, photos or Facebook posts from your past, giving you the chance to reminisce and refresh your memory? Effectively In search of lost tweets, rather than lost time (or a more arbitrary version of TimeHop). I’d much rather go down that path than an internet open to the removal of embarrassing, but true information, which is where the right to be forgotten potentially takes us.
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About meI'm Chris Measures and I've spent the last 18 years creating and implementing PR and marketing campaigns for technology companies. I've worked with everyone from large quoted companies to fast growth start-ups, giving me unrivalled experience and ideas. I'm now director of Measures Consulting, an agency that uses this expertise to deliver PR and marketing success for technology businesses.
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