Delete looks at the surprising phenomenon of perfect remembering in the digital age, and reveals why we must reintroduce our capacity to forget. Digital technology empowers us as never before, yet it has unforeseen consequences as well. Potentially humiliating content on Facebook is enshrined in cyberspace for future employers to see. Google remembers everything we've searched for and when. The digital realm remembers what is sometimes better forgotten, and this has profound implications for us all.
In Delete, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger traces the important role that forgetting has played throughout human history, from the ability to make sound decisions unencumbered by the past to the possibility of second chances. The written word made it possible for humans to remember across generations and time, yet now digital technology and global networks are overriding our natural ability to forget--the past is ever present, ready to be called up at the click of a mouse. Mayer-Schönberger examines the technology that's facilitating the end of forgetting--digitization, cheap storage and easy retrieval, global access, and increasingly powerful software--and describes the dangers of everlasting digital memory, whether it's outdated information taken out of context or compromising photos the Web won't let us forget. He explains why information privacy rights and other fixes can't help us, and proposes an ingeniously simple solution--expiration dates on information--that may.
Delete is an eye-opening book that will help us remember how to forget in the digital age.
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is professor of internet governance and regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and a member of the academic advisory board of Microsoft. His other books include Governance and Information Technology. A former software developer and lawyer, he spent ten years on the faculty of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
"Mayer-Schonberger deserves to be applauded and Delete deserves to be read for making us aware of the timelessness of what we created and for getting us to consider what endless accumulation might portend."--Paul Duguid, Times Literary Supplement
"In Delete, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger argues that we should be less troubled by the fleetingness of our digital records than by the way they can linger."--Adam Keiper, Wall Street Journal
"Mayer-Schönberger raises questions about the power of technology and how it affects our interpretation of time. . . . He draws on a rich body of contemporary psychological theory to argue that both individuals and societies are obliged to rewrite or eliminate elements of the past that would render action in the present impossible."--Fred Turner, Nature
"There is no better source for fostering an informed debate on this issue."--Science
"A fascinating book."--Clive Thompson, WIRED Magazine
"As its title suggests, Delete is about forgetting, more specifically about the demise of forgetting and the resulting perils. . . . [Mayer-Schonberger] comes up with an interesting solution: expiration dates in electronic files. This would stop the files from existing forever and flooding us and the next generations with gigantic piles of mostly useless or even potentially harmful details. This proposal should not be forgotten as we navigate between the urge to record and immortalise our lives and the need to stay productive and sane."--Yadin Dudai, New Scientist
"Delete is a useful recap of the various methods that are--or could be--applied to dealing with the consequences of information abundance. It also adds a thought-provoking new twist to the literature."--Richard Waters, Financial Times
Table of Contents:
Chapter I: Failing to Forget the "Drunken Pirate" 1
Chapter II: The Role of Remembering and the Importance of Forgetting 16
Chapter III: The Demise of Forgetting--and Its Drivers 50
Chapter IV: Of Power and Time--Consequences of the Demise of Forgetting 92
Chapter V: Potential Responses 128
Chapter VI: Reintroducing Forgetting 169
Chapter VII: Conclusions 196
Afterword to the Paperback Edition 201