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Pervasive computing and the ethics of forgetting

Environment and Planning B: Planning and DesignTheme issue: Space, sociality, and pervasive computing

Interesting to see the topic tackled in EPB instead of EPD: Society and Space, but an interesting line-up of papers nonetheless. Of particular interest is Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin’s contribution.

‘Outlines of a world coming into existence’: pervasive computing and the ethics of forgetting

In this paper we examine the potential of pervasive computing to create widespread sousveillance, which will complement surveillance, through the development of life-logs—sociospatial archives that document every action, every event, every conversation, and every material expression of an individual’s life. Reflecting on emerging technologies, life-log projects, and artistic critiques of sousveillance, we explore the potential social, political, and ethical implications of machines that never forget. We suggest, given that life-logs have the potential to convert exterior generated oligopticons to an interior panopticon, that an ethics of forgetting needs to be developed and built into the development of life-logging technologies. Rather than seeing forgetting as a weakness or a fallibility, we argue that it is an emancipatory process that will free pervasive computing from burdensome and pernicious disciplinary effects.

I had the pleasure of reading this back in 2005 – it really is a shame that academic publishers take so bloody long to get things out – and Rob and Martin’s work always impresses me. Mind you, I do have a persistent interest in forgetting (ha!) – although I really haven’t followed up on it since a paper written for a 2006 CHI workshop I didn’t manage to attend: Collective remembering and the importance of forgetting (pdf).

And actually, I think that some of the very best work on space, culture and technology is being done by geographers these days. Question to other social and cultural researchers: why aren’t we engaging this more actively?