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The End of Forgetting

      Four years ago, Stacy Snyder, then a 25-year-old teacher in training at Conestoga Valley High School in Lancaster, Pa., posted a photo on her MySpace page that showed her at a party wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup, with the caption "Drunken Pirate." After discovering the page, her supervisor at the high school told her the photo was "unprofessional," and the dean of Millersville University School of Education, where Snyder was enrolled, said she was promoting drinking in virtual view of her under-age students. As a result, days before Snyder's scheduled graduation, the university denied her a teaching degree. Snyder sued, arguing that the university had violated her First Amendment rights by penalizing her for her (perfectly legal) after-hours behavior. But in 2008, a federal district judge rejected the claim, saying that because Snyder was a public employee whose photo didn't relate to matters of public concern, her "Drunken Pirate" post was not protected speech.

      When historians of the future look back on the perils of the early digital age, Stacy Snyder may well be an icon. The problem she faced is only one example of a challenge that, in big and small ways, is confronting millions of people around the globe: how best to live our lives in a world where the Internet records everything and forgets nothing - where every online photo, status update, Twitter post and blog entry by and about us can be stored forever. With Web sites like LOL Facebook Moments, which collects and shares embarrassing personal revelations from Facebook users, ill-advised photos and online chatter are coming back to haunt people months or years after the fact. Examples are proliferating daily: there was the 16-year-old British girl who was fired from her office job for complaining on Facebook, "I'm so totally bored!!"; there was the 66-year-old Canadian psychotherapist who tried to enter the United States but was turned away at the border and barred permanently from visiting the country - after a border guard's Internet search found that the therapist had written an article in a philosophy journal describing his experiments 30 years ago with L.S.D.

      According to a recent survey by Microsoft, 75 percent of U.S. recruiters and human-resource professionals report that their companies require them to do online research about candidates, and many use a range of sites when scrutinizing applicants - including search engines, social-networking sites, photo- and video-sharing sites, personal Web sites and blogs, Twitter and online-gaming sites. Seventy percent of U.S. recruiters report that they have rejected candidates because of information found online, like photos and discussion-board conversations and membership in controversial groups.

      We've known for years that the Web allows for unprecedented voyeurism, exhibitionism and inadvertent indiscretion, but we are only beginning to understand the costs of an age in which so much of what we say, and of what others say about us, goes into our permanent - and public - digital files. The fact that the Internet never seems to forget is threatening, at an almost existential level, our ability to control our identities; to preserve the option of reinventing ourselves and starting anew; to overcome our checkered pasts.

      In a recent book, Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, the cyberscholar Viktor Mayer-Schönberger cites Stacy Snyder's case as a reminder of the importance of "societal forgetting." By "erasing external memories," he says in the book, "our society accepts that human beings evolve over time, that we have the capacity to learn from past experiences and adjust our behavior." In traditional societies, where missteps are observed but not necessarily recorded, the limits of human memory ensure that people's sins are eventually forgotten. By contrast, Mayer-Schönberger notes, a society in which everything is recorded will "forever tether us to all our past actions, making it impossible, in practice, to escape them." He concludes that "without some form of forgetting, forgiving becomes a difficult undertaking."

      It's often said that we live in a permissive era, one with infinite second chances. But the truth is that for a great many people, the permanent memory bank of the Web increasingly means there are no second chances - no opportunities to escape a scarlet letter in your digital past. Now the worst thing you've done is often the first thing everyone knows about you.

Jeffrey Rosen

General comprehension

1) What new Age have we recently entered according to Jeffrey Rosen?

2) Do you think ‘The End of Forgetting’ is a good title for this text? Why?

3) The purpose of the article is:
- to make people aware of the dangers of personal exposure on the web.
- to criticize the government for not taking action against indiscreet websites.
- to encourage people not to use the internet.

Detailed comprehension

Part 1 (paragraph 1)

1) What did Stacy Snyder post on MySpace?

2) What does the term ‘First Amendment’ refer to?

3) Match the following words or abbreviations with their equivalent:
Pa. = Patagonia / postal address / Pennsylvania
Caption = descriptive phrase / pirate’s cap / alcohol
Dean = former student / head / secretary
To sue = To go to court / to perspire / to complain loudly
4) Did Stacy win her trial against Millersville University? Why?

Part 2 (paragraphs 2&3)

1) True or false : justify your answer
a) The case of Stacy Snyder will soon be forgotten.
b) Some websites collect and highlight embarrassing information on people
c) A British girl was fired because she told her boss she was bored.
d) A Canadian Citizen was rejected at the US border because of an internet search.

2) Use your knowledge of the web to define the following terms:
Online photo
Status update
Twitter post
Blog entry

3) Many firms now use the web to get background information on their future employees. What sort of information can recruiters find on the internet? What tools do they use?

4) What are the consequences of these practices? Are they common in the US? (Jusfify by quoting the text)

Part 3 (paragraphs 4,5&6)

1) What is the difference between voyeurism and inadvertent indiscretion?

2) In what way does the internet threaten our ability to control our identities?

3) A cyberscholar is :
- a scholar in Second Life
- a scholar specialising in internet-related issues
- an artificial intelligence on the web
4) Viktor Mayer-Schönberger mentions ‘societal forgetting’ to describe the traditional way people forget about past mistakes. What expression does Jeffrey Rosen use when referring to an internet that never forgets?

5) In the last paragraph of the text, can you explain the expression ‘a scarlet letter in your digital past’? Search the internet or ask your teacher if you don’t know what a ‘scarlet letter’ refers to.

Going futher - debating subjects

1) Should we stop using social media and data sharing websites?

2) Are the younger generations sufficiently informed about the dangers of the internet?

Grammar - génitif et assemblages en "of"

Exemples :
a) Viktor Mayer-Schönberger cites Stacy Snyder's case…
b) The limits of human memory ensure that people's sins are eventually forgotten.
c) And the dean of Millersville University School of Education…
d) When historians of the future look back on the perils of the early digital age…
1) On dit souvent que le génitif (’s) signifie la possession. Peut-on parler de possession dans « Stacy Snyder's case » et « people's sins » ?

2) Observez l’exemple suivant et les commentaires rédigés par le linguiste Jean-Pierre Gabilan :

Comment dire « la femme de l’ambassadeur de Hongrie » en anglais ?
- the Hungarian embassador’s wife : On utilise cette forme si on est à l’ambassade de Hongrie et que c’est autour de l’ambassadeur qu’on situe les invités.
- the wife of the Hungarian embassador : On utilise cette forme quand on présente une personne, sans contexte précis.

En vous inspirant de ces commentaires et en observant les phrases a, b, c et d, complétez le texte suivant en encerclant les propositions qui vous semblent justes :

Avec les assemblages en "of" (N of N), les deux noms sont sur le même plan. Le (premier/second) apporte après coup des précisions au (premier/second). Avec le génitif (’s) les deux noms ne sont plus sur le même plan. Le contexte a fait que le (premier/second) nom est privilégié, c’est autour de lui que les choses sont organisées. Il est présenté comme une information qui s’est imposée en premier.

Génitif et assemblages en "of" - consulter le précis de grammaire
Jeffrey Rosen
Jeffrey Rosen is a professor of law at George Washington University. He is a graduate of Harvard College; Oxford University and Yale Law School. The L.A. Times called him "the nation's most widely read and influential legal commentator."

further readings
- The End of Forgetting
Lire l'article de Jeffrey Rosen dans son intégralité.

- A global open-circuit television system going live?
Un article de Jeffrey Rosen

- Understanding the social media
Une interview de Jeffrey Rosen sur les nouveaux usages des réseaux sociaux et l'éducation de leurs utilisateurs.

- The end of privacy: the state and surveillance
Un débat entre Jeffrey Rosen et Didier Bigo.

- The Digital Revolution
Virginia Heffernan, journaliste au New York Times, évoque la naissance d'internet et les réactions suscitées par son développement.

- Virginia Heffernan - Interview de La Clé des langues
Dans un entretien accordé à La Clé des langues, Virginia Heffernan nous parle de quelques conséquences de la révolution internet.

- Bums, Bridges, and Primates: Some Elements for a Sociology of Online Interactions

Le sociologue Antonio A. Casilli s'interroge sur la finalité des réseaux sociaux et sur les nouvelles relations sociales nées de l'internet.

- Production de soi, distance à soi. Recompositions identitaires à l’heure d’Internet
Dominique Cardon, spécialiste des usages des nouvelles technologies, s'intéresse ici à la publication de photos, de vidéos et de textes sur internet.
Mise à jour le 12 mars 2013
Créé le 19 juin 2012
ISSN 2107-7029
DGESCO Clé des Langues