From Bret Victor’s recent post, on the ephemerality and permanence of the web:
“Think about speech, letters, newspapers, books, smoke signals… Each medium serves only a particular subset of social purposes, and each medium is technically transparent enough that people can understand what’s happening when they use it.”
Bret misses the point here. The web isn’t analogous to letters, newspapers or books. It’s closer to paper, on which letters, newspapers or books can be printed. Like paper (letters for private ephemeral communication, books for the storage and distribution of knowledge), the web can support many different kinds of storage and communication systems. The preservationist complains about its rate of deterioration while the criminal regrets the permanence of ink.
One doesn’t avoid this conflict by designing a more purposeful technology. It’s deeply human to be conflicted about information. We’re overwhelmed by it but we constantly seek more. We use information technologies in ways that surprise their creators, and other users. The misalignment of expectations around privacy is as old as the concept of privacy.
What changes is the pace of progress. The pace of change slows, and we humans have enough time to develop norms that help us deal with some of this nasty conflict.