Do We Have the Right to Be Forgotten? (Part Three)
Last thoughts on the right to be forgotten.
So our first discussion was about interacting with huge entities such as Facebook or a government agency. And the second discussion was really about distant relationships between two people: The concert-goer and Beyonce. Me and my old college friend, John Smith. People who may not know each other well, or at all.
Today we’re getting to the core: what about the people who love us? The ones we interact with every day or who operate within our face-to-face world? Our acquaintances and friends and family; the people who make up the circle that surrounds us.
Image: Jlhopgood via Flickr
When a Jewish couple gets engaged, they sometimes have a te’naim, which means conditions. Originally, it was a time for the two families to negotiate the details of the marriage, but Josh and I modernized the tradition and wrote our conditions or vows to each other on a piece of pottery. We then smashed the pottery and gave a shard (in a glass box) to each member of our family. We were symbolically giving them a tangible piece of our vows; of our relationship because, by getting married, we were including them on an intangible piece of our vows.
The reason pottery is broken at a te’naim is to symbolize the way the two families would be shattered — unable to be pieced back together in the same way — if the relationship between the couple were to change. And it’s a reminder not to break the conditions; that trust can’t be put back together easily if people don’t uphold their end of the contract.
Marriages are obviously between two people, but we bring all sorts of people with us into our relationship. I mean, I married Josh, but I got his parents and siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins. I inherited his friends. And the same thing happened in the other direction: he got everyone that I brought with me. And then we started procreating so the kids were drawn into that circle, and we made more friends so all of those people have been sucked into the vortex of our relationship.
Does everyone else’s sun rise and set due to our marriage? Of course not. But haven’t you ever felt physically ill when a good friend tells you that their relationship is over? A friend once told me that he was divorcing, and I remember sitting down on the edge of my bed, feeling gutted. It wasn’t my marriage, and yet I felt personally invested in their happiness. Part of my happiness was tied to their happiness.
Every time we interact with someone, grow close to them, it feels as if we hand them a piece of ourselves, just as I handed that shard of pottery to all of our family members. Which means that once we start interacting with people, giving our love to our family and later our friends, we can never be completely whole. Tiny pieces of us are scattered across the world, being figuratively carried by everyone who has come into our life.
Now add in social media.
Social media has done an amazing job making connections between two people who would never have met otherwise due to life circumstances. For instance, Lori. There was little chance that we would have met seeing that we live on two different sides of the country. But we became super close after we met due to our blogs. And now Lori owns a piece of my story, and I own a piece of hers.
And maybe you feel as if you own a piece of my story. I certainly feel as if I own a piece of yours. You’re not a blog. You’re a human being who happens to write a blog. I care about your story. I email with you. I joke around with you on Facebook. I’ve cried with you. Sometimes we step out from behind the computer and get together in the face-to-face world. I’ve given away tons of little shards of myself — more than I maybe know since I have no clue how many people I’ve affected in this world. And I’ve collected tons of little shards of other people — maybe more than they know since we don’t always have a clue how we’ve affected another person.
So… when it comes to that right to be forgotten, we can obviously stop writing our blog and slip away. But what about all the people who read our story and interacted with us? All the people who hold a figurative shard of my life, that I made a social contract with by reaching out in the first place. Do they own our interaction or do I? Do they have the right to write about me or mention old blog posts? Or is it my right to pull away as much information as possible if I choose to be forgotten so I can shrivel away like the legs of the Witch of the East under Dorothy’s house?
Who owns the collective memories of our shared interactions? I wrote the post, but you read the post: there are two sides to that experience. If both of us own our interactions, do we have the right to upload any picture or make any statement online about another person, since we are presenting them as a person in our life. In other words, we’re still the subject, and everyone else is a player on our stage. How do you draw your social media lines when what we place online may be permanent in the case of certain sites and far-reaching?
Believe me, I’ve thought long and hard about this because what else am I doing with the Friday Blog Roundup beyond saying how something you wrote affected me? How I carry that figurative shard of you that I collected by reading your post. I make the choice — without asking you — to highlight your writing. And maybe I’m overstepping a huge line when I look at it from this angle even if the act of blogging comes with the tacit permission to link. You can remove your post, but now, by writing about it, it lives on the Internet unless I remove it too. And then, really, neither of us can truly get rid of it because the Wayback Machine has probably already archived it.