Why we are fighting for the right not to be famous for 15 minutes

Once upon a time every man and his dog craved their 15 minutes of fame.

Hell…Saturday night reality TV even turned the dog into a diva.

There are still small pockets of those desperate for the bright lights of fame but, fortunately, they seem to have been successfully corralled (or should that be ‘Cowelled’?) into a Simon-sized window viewable solely through an LED TV screen in a tiny time slot on a weekend, while the real world is out doing real things with real people.

But, this week, the digital behemoth that is Google has found itself having to fight off a challenge in the European Court of Justice after a proposition that eschews the very essence of that famous for 15 minutes ethos and craves, nay demands, anonymity, gathered muster.


Because yesterday’s news is no longer tomorrow’s chip paper.

Back in my early teens, when I used to spend my evenings pedaling around South Manchester to deliver the then broadsheet-format Manchester Evening News, getting paid the handsome sum of £3.10 for my weekly labours, those headlines would literally be tomorrow’s chip paper – big stories forgotten by all those except the people who devoured their Friday night cod & chips from ink-stained wrappings.

The digital age put paid to that.

Today’s news no longer disappears in the salty-haze of a convenient malt vinegar smudge. It is there forever – immortalised in an historic digital footprint that screams scandal, exposé or embarrassing personal history as loudly as the day it was first published in the everlasting public records of the lawless wild-west town we call the internet.

Much like in Tokyo – where the City of a Billion People is now one giant wi-fi hotspot, a digital sprawl where it is impossible to dodge the hurricane of radio waves and citizens happily pay to shelter in wi-fi free zones for a moment’s dotcom escape – the digitally-exhausted are now seeking an anonymous sanctuary away from the clutches of infamy.

With Facebook detailing every cough and splutter of our lives in techni-coloured, microscopic detail – lunch menu, dreary middle-class crisis, Grumpy Cat meme and world famine getting equal billing – I can’t say I blame anyone who seeks the solace of a 21st century blackout curtain. It has almost become an essential defensive shield from the monstrously mundane.

But the real reason Google is having to fight tooth and nail to block the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ is because the great unwashed now realise that, while internet access has no age restrictions, the Web also possesses a voracious appetite for personal details which, input during the indifferent-to-risk adolescent years, have the potential to rebound with a force Mother Nature would shudder at, in later years.

All human beings, especially the Clearasil generation, have a tendency to make ill-judged mistakes in what they say and do with alarming regularity. But no-one should be forced to carry those early hormonal errors around like luggage for the rest of their lives. It is no longer curiosity-fuelled satanic lyrics hastily inscribed on the cover of an adolescent textbook and forgotten as soon as you begin to shave – it is concrete proof, for those seeking a caveat, that you worship Beelzebub and have absolutely no right to a decent job in later life.

There are inherent dangers, of course, in allowing society the right to edit the internet. Are we simply giving people an easy tool with which to Tippex history? Are we opening a door that may allow digitally-savvy n’er-do-wells to erase evidence of their early misdemeanours? Maybe not. But you get my drift.

For me, the real money-shot at the centre of this globally documented digital episode is the destruction of an ancient icon. It seems the legend that we’ll all be famous for 15 minutes may now be defunct.

We’re either famous…or infamous. Forever.

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