There are, we often hear, several simultaneous Big Battles taking place on—and for—the Internet. Mobile web versus native apps! Open versus walled! Regulated versus free! We are, right at this very moment, approaching a pivotal juncture in the road to The Future Internet.
But the juncture is always pivotal, of course, and the dichotomies presented to us are almost always false ones; the choices and tensions we navigate when it comes to our digital infrastructure are rarely as black-and-white as convenient polarities would have us believe.
There is, though, a tension that is a little more validly either/or than many of its counterparts. And it has to do less with regulation, and less with architecture, and more with the social and cultural choices we make when it comes to the way we communicate online. It asks whether we want an Internet that remembers ... or forgets. It navigates the space between the Internet's virtually infinite memory and humans' limited ones.
It's the Internet of the Ephemeral—the side of the Internet that gives us Snapchat and Confide and other apps that owe their popularity not just to the fact that they are not Facebook, but also to the fact that they trade, specifically, on their impermanence. While the ongoing archive brings certain pressures—when it comes to performance, when it comes to privacy—self-destructing communications allow us the freedom of the fleeting. Like the also-popular apps Secret and Whisper, they create a kind of cognitive opacity. They offer privacy by way of ephemerality. They are cheekier, more atomized versions of the legal fight being waged in France: the battle for, as it's being called, "the right to be forgotten."