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To Err, Divine

August 26, 2010

Why 4chan/WikiLeaks/anonymity-writ-large?  This profile of Chris “moot” Poole sums up in a nice package:

[P]eople should have a place where they can speak truth to power (blow a whistle on corruption, assess whether an emperor has clothes) without fear of reprisal; they should also have a place where they can be true to themselves (explore an unconventional sexuality, seek treatment for a stigmatized disease) without risking ostracism and worse. But while Poole embraces these arguments, what he says in defense of the anonymity on 4chan is at once less high-minded and (in ways he is only slowly coming to understand) more far-reaching:’People deserve a place to be wrong.’

So much in so few words.  The freedoms to err and to voice unpopular views are bedrock necessities of the scientific method/experientialism/Pragmatism/Existentialism/liberal society.  But with data immortality, the end of forgetting, and total information awareness, the good life has become an increasingly narrow tightrope walk.  And in this metaphor, the community’s arbitrary social and moral standards and stances are the winds blowing crisscross along that path.  Any childish or temporary foolishness can always be traced back and attributed, especially since data storage is already frivolously inexpensive and data processing, searching and refining are continuously growing more powerful.

Or maybe we should listen to Google CEO Eric Schmidt and get ready to have our names changed.

He predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends’ social media sites.

Of course, the strength of that prediction is the intersection of human nature and politically palatability: like America quickly ceding its privacy, this plan relies on total laziness.  However, I would be quick to suggest that privacy policy is one space where we, as human beings, cannot afford to be wrong.


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