Eric Schmidt and Changing Cultural Norms

Google CEO Eric Schmidt increased his Google Trends ranking with his comments about young people one day needing to change their names to escape past online activity.  Most of the commentary focused on whether this was actually a possibility, but in doing so it missed the larger question.

In a world where there is a public record of  all nearly all past activities, there will eventually be less  emphasis placed on a person’s past actions and more emphasis placed on their current motivation. How will this affect society?

The obvious upside is that it will lead to fewer utility-decreasing disqualifications based on irrelevant past behavior. A college drug arrest will no longer keep a bright politician or CEO from making their maximum contribution to society.

The downside is a potential uptick in reckless behavior of people below a certain age.  Why shouldn’t a 17 year-old risk buying heroin if getting caught won’t deprive him of any future opportunities?  The former effect would probably be stronger than the latter, but only time will tell.

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