May 18

The May 16 editorial “Forced to forget” did not evaluate the alternative imposed by modern search engines: “Forced to remember.” In small towns in the old days, everyone knew everything about everyone else, and people enjoyed no greater pleasure than gossiping about and rendering moral judgment on their neighbors. Reputations were fixed at an early age, and the gossip never was forgotten. Escaping small-town justice required starting life over at a sufficient remove. Only in the 20th century did the automobile and cities make anonymity possible, with all its implications for freedom and responsibility. An unintended consequence of the Internet has been to reimpose and enhance small-town justice, branding every sinner with a scarlet letter, indelible and irremediable.

Stephan P. Carrier, Chevy Chase