"We should probably start accepting the idea that when we were young we all did and said stupid things - and cut ourselves some slack", says Dan Gillmor, author of "We, the Media". It was over lunch the other day at the Aula conference in Helsinki and we were discussing the idea that the digital world is increasingly shadowing the real world, and that shadow, once it appears in one's life, may never go away.
To the point: our political system is built on an industrial-era information context, and that makes it unfit for the digital era. Consider: in ten or fifteen years many people entering political life will be those that entertain today personal blogs and pages on social networks such as MySpace, where they often share opinions, views, and very intimate details of their daily life in shocking details. In 15 years, one of them will be running for mayor and another for a parliamentary seat and so on (this applies also to job searches and to a larger social context, by the way) and out there there will be many embarrassing leftovers (or more) about them, which they willingly posted on the Internet.
Sure, we can hit the "delete" button, erase files and take down websites, even physically trash computers. But digital data has this most annoying attribute of being tendentially indestructible. In the journey between our laptop and the blog, data transits through many routers; in the trip from our outbox to a friend's inbox, e-mail does the same; backups are made; CDs and USB keys are all over; friends (and foes alike) copy and re-post and excerpt and re-mix; aggregators aggregate; Internet archives "photograph" the Web at regular intervals to keep copies; etc.
As John Battelle so rightly puts it: "We're living online, but have yet to fully realize the implications of doing so. One of those implications is that our tracks through the digital sand are eternal".
That's why, as Dan Gillmor suggests, we need to start working on cultural and social "forgetness" - he did not use that word, but the idea is that if you said or wrote or did something stupid in the past, unless it's criminal it should not come back to haunt you. Or else, it will be very difficult to maintain a functioning political system.