Culture, Internet

Remembering To Forget

Thanks to the digital revolution, our biological memories don’t have to remember much. External memories—e-mails, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, blog posts—do that for us. And they forget nothing. Nothing, at all. But is that a good thing?

In “Delete,” Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, professor at Oxford’s Internet Institute, urges us to hit the “delete” button oftener.

Take Google. It’s the 21st-century version of what H.G. Wells, had envisioned in the 1930s: a “world brain.” It’s an omniscient entity, with a perfect memory that stores all information about everyone.

Mayer-Schönberger’s argues that a comprehensive memory is as much a curse as it’s a boon.

He imagines a sad little story of two friends meeting after not seeing each other for years. John and Jane arrange to go for coffee at an old haunt to reminisce. But Jane can’t quite remember the name of the café.

So, she has a brainwave—she’ll check through her old e-mails to John. As she looks for the café address, she stumbles across an exchange with him that poisons her attitude to him. Instead of forgiving and forgetting, she’s overwhelmed with old resentment and, quite possibly, won’t turn up for that coffee.

How can we make forgetting a little easier? By setting an expiration date on digital documents. When that date is reached, they’ll automatically be deleted.



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