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Viktor Mayer-Schonberger

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access, and increasingly powerful software--and describes the dangers of everlasting digital memory, whether it's outdated information taken out of context or compromising photos the Web won't let us forget.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.

Here's a blog discussing two of VMS's examples: Stacy Snyder, a 25 year old mother of two from Pennsylvania who was denied a teaching certificate after Millersville University authorities discovered a photo of her entitled ‘Drunken Pirate’ — wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup — on her MySpace page, and Andrew Feldmar, a Canadian psychotherapist who was barred from entering the US as he had done many times before after a border guard discovered an article Feldmar had written for the interdisciplinary journal Janus Head in which Feldmar mentioned that he had researched LSD during the ’60s.

blog refuting VMS's ideas

It also turns out, as it usually does, that there was a bit more to Stacy Snyder's story. A federal judge ruled against Snyder, who not only had been previously warned by the school to keep her webpages free of references to her students but had communicated with students through MySpace. Her “unprofessional behavior” and low-level competence had been exposed – as well as, it seems, Mayer-Schönberger’s calamitous vision. Snyder’s story is actually a familiar and longstanding one – about the boundary between our private and public lives and managing the peephole’s aperture between them.

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