Review of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age

Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital AgeDelete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I like the idea of this book, but I didn’t like reading it. His argument is that by keeping everything that we’ve done online that we risk two things: first, that adolescent foibles and drunken late nights will be held against us potentially forever, and second that to forget makes us in some way more human and we have to retain that. To be honest I skimmed almost everything regarding the second argument and so may be stating it poorly.

While it is in fact the case that it’s easier to find out people’s shady secrets when you can find them online, I don’t think this has changed society in any fundamental way. All human cultures have some sort of taboos that if people break they try to keep it quiet. Modern American culture doesn’t have the same sort of shame culture that Ancient Rome, Victorian England, etc. had anyway. I am sure I am wrong, but most cases of blackmail are for criminal offenses, not drinking pictures or sexual escapades. Now that DADA has been lifted this will probably take care of a lot of one of the remaining huge incentives to keep sexuality quiet–not that this doesn’t exist in a hundred other little ways in other arenas. Either way, there are things that people want to keep secret for sure, but a lot of other things that just aren’t a big deal for other people to know.

But I digress. It is well known by now that before job hunting you better clean up your digital image. I don’t see that as a problem. You can easily live a private life about which your employers know nothing, digitally or physically. The major issues arise when it comes to the intersection of personal and professional–what if you use your social media accounts for work purposes, for instance? Standards for institutional social media are changing, partly due to these sorts of conflicts. Some organizations push for more open communication, some shut it down completely.

He proposes some solutions to these problems such as digital abstinence and expiration dates for information. They are already technically possible, but I didn’t buy his argument that it was necessary to even worry about the problem. There have been a number of books on this topic lately, and this is just not the best treatment of it.

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