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The right to be forgotten vs. the hope to be remembered

The right to be forgotten vs. the hope to be remembered

train track into the horizon

When I talk about an artist’s Digital ID my focus is on the presentation and preservation of who we are and what we do in the digital realm. In my opinion, today’s creative people have a unique opportunity to define how we’ll be discovered, seen and remembered. The same way that victors write the history books, only the artists who make the right choices around their digital legacy will produce lasting work.

It’s a tough concept to get our heads around. Hell, I’m writing this series so that I can begin to understand it myself. But it’s an important discussion, because our conclusions will yield solid next steps for:


  1. Being online in a way that’s true to ourselves and our work
  2. Ensuring that our hard work will be enjoyed long after we’re gone

So perhaps this particular wrinkle in Google’s robe will shed light on what we’re talking about. Not because it’s some sexy new feature or product. But because of its spectacular presumptuousness.

Forget being remembered, how can you manage to be forgotten?

Europe’s highest court recently passed down a ruling that’s widely called The Right To Be Forgotten. In response, Google announced a new service that allows EU citizens to submit a form to be removed from Google’s European results. I don’t want to get into the details of the process, because the thing that fascinates me is the premise of submitting a form so you can get wiped from the memory of the largest catalog in human history — besides our DNA of course ;-)

Sure, some people may want to protect their privacy. Some want to erase sordid pasts. Some want to start over after identity theft. But what does it even mean to be forgotten in the 21st century? The EU law’s premise and Google’s compliance seem to imply that Google, through its search engine, email, etc. is in some real way trying to remember us. After all, the opposite of being forgotten is to be remembered.

But that’s a flawed premise.

Anyone who is indexed, tracked, covered, Tweeted, shared, Liked, Plussed or nonplussed is not going to be remembered. The data will disappear over time. The memory will dissipate in spectacularly unnatural ways. Server outages will erase books, bad code will decimate entire portfolios, db updates will wipe out metadata, a hack will corrupt billions of sole backups.

Google’s bankruptcy will strand it all, casting trillions of our creations into purgatory, like ghosts who just want to be remembered.

Fire, war, catastrophe, decay. The list of what will most definitely happen to our digital data goes on and on.

So, in the long run, (which is the only run I’m interested in here) the idea that Google is remembering us is like saying cramming for a test is learning. You retain a tiny percentage of what you study, but most, if not all, is lost to the wind.

Maybe the EU and Google and the media just threw a name at the ruling that sounded clever. The right to be forgotten certainly presses some buttons, doesn’t it? Maybe they don’t mean to jump into the murky pool of legacy, or history books or what defines a “permanent record.” But even if that’s the case, the very fact that language like this is used around the digital version of our lives implies that we truly believe that our servers and our electricity and our file formats are part of a strong record, or a collective memory.

They are not.

So “The Right to be Forgotten” throws into stark relief this premise of being online in a way that lasts. Creative people can find a way to get online that’s true to their work and to themselves. But let’s not forget that everything we do online is ethereal in the long-run. That’s not a bad thing. It just means we need to prepare.

In my next post on Digital ID, I want to start laying out a strategy for getting online like you want to get online! Enough philosophy, let’s get our hands dirty for a bit…


By Ben Zackheim


Read more about Digital ID:

What’s your Digital ID?

WordPress for authors and writers (part four)

WordPress for authors and writers (part three)

WordPress for authors and writers (part two)

WordPress for authors and writers (part one)

What’s your Digital ID?

What’s your Digital ID?


NOTE: In the coming months I’m going to write about how we present ourselves online. Digital ID, as I call it, is the sum of:

After two decades of doing business online, I’ve realized that we must know who we are offline to establish the strongest Digital ID. I’ll set out to prove that thesis in my articles.

We’re all learning how to maneuver this wonderful, liberating mess together! So I look forward to hearing this community’s opinions. 

I like the image above because it’s how I feel when I wake up in the morning and put on my marketing cap and get on Facebook. I feel like I’m immersed in a pool of people, some of us connected, some of us not, some of us wanting to be connected, some of us not. And I think it’s important to recognize that mess. I think understanding how messy things are makes it easier to understand how we feel about establishing a digital ID. And, just as importantly, what we need to do to set up our own Digital ID.

What do I mean by that?

Here’s my best explanation: I’m a strong believer in the independent storyteller’s power. Not just the power of moving people to think and act and feel, but the power to find an audience on your own that you can tell your story to.


The Slow, Agonizing, Delightful Death of the Gatekeeper

For a long time, storytellers have been ruled by gatekeepers who got to tell us, “That story is good enough and worth this much. But that one sucks and good luck!”

Those days are coming to an end.

And how do I know this?

Because I was a gatekeeper.

I told some brilliant people that their stuff wouldn’t make it in today’s market. Sometimes I was right, sometimes wrong. But the powerful emotions I felt when I saw some of them move on and do great things were undeniable.

I wasn’t regretful.

I wasn’t envious.

I was inspired.

I saw them leveraging brand new tools, online services, ways of connecting that no one had thought of. They found their audience without Viacom, ESPN, AOL, Sony and all those other places where I worked.

Those gatekeepers were wrong.

I was wrong.

For my part, I had enough confidence in my own writing talent to strike out and try this new world on for size myself.

Now, the jury is still out on whether that was a good idea. While I’m doing great, I’m not making a living wage at writing my books. But I like the trajectory and I love the process. The freedom is exhilarating.

And it’s messy. Like this post’s image.


So what does this mean for working artists?

We’re living through a fundamental shift in how people learn about us and how we learn about them. As a writer looking for an audience I know in my heart that I’ll find my readers only if I stay true to myself.

To be clear, I find the incredibly detailed tracking of people by big companies creepy. I don’t trust them with the information. The counterpoint is that most of them are sharing that data with everyone. Some charge (like FB) and some don’t (like Google). Does that make it okay? I don’t know the answer to that.

I do know that I can go online and have a universe of data on my target audience at my fingertips. If I work hard, stay true to myself and my work, I can reach them and I can make a living telling my stories. The sacrifice I make is that my interests, preferences, friends and behavior is also thrown into this messy pool of data — slicing my identity into little pieces for another artist or writer or entrepreneur to scour through and evaluate.

[Tweet "I'm a data point for someone else. And they're mine."]

It’s a fascinating, liberating, terrifying time. And I’m delighted to be a part of the mess every single day.