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Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age Paperback – 25 Jul 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; With a New afterword by the author edition (25 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691150362
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691150369
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 2.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 367,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


Winner of the 2010 Marshall McLuhan Award for Outstanding Book in Media ecology, Media Ecology Association
Winner of the 2010 Don K. Price Award, Science, Technology, and Environmental Politics Section of the American Political Science Association

"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-Schonberger 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-Schonberger 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"

"Unlike so many books about the internet, which like to hit the panic button then run, Mayer-Schonberger stays around to offer a solution. . . . Mayer-Schonberger deserves to be applauded and Delete deserves to be read for making us aware of the timelessness of what we create and for getting us to consider what endless accumulation might portend."--Paul Duguid, "Times Higher Education""

"This book . . . is laid out like an invitation to such a sparring session. There you find the detailed arguments, spread out one by one. Get ready to highlight where you agree, note contradictions and arguments not carried through to their consequential end, and make annotations where you feel a new punch. The session will be worth the effort."--Herbert Burkert, "Cyberlaw"

"A lively, accessible argument . . . that all that stored and shared data is a serious threat to life as we know it."--Jim Willse, "Newark Star Ledger"

"A fascinating work of social and technological criticism. . . . The book explores the ways various technologies has altered the human relationship with memory, shifting us from a society where the default was to forget (and consequently forgive) to one where it is impossible to avoid the ramifications of a permanent record."--Philip Martin, "Arkansas Democrat Gazette"

"Mayer-Schonberger convincingly claims that our new status quo, the impossibility of forgetting, is severely misaligned to how the human brain works, and to how individuals and societies function. . . . Can anything be done? "Delete" is an accessible, thoughtful and alarming attempt to start debate."--Karlin Lillington, "Irish Times""

"To argue for more forgetting is counter-intuitive to those who value information, history and transparency, but the writer pursues it systematically and thoroughly."--Richard Thwaites, "Canberra Times"

"Surprising and fascinating. . . . "Delete" opens a highly useful debate."--Robert Fulford, "National Post"

""Delete" offers many scary examples of how the control of personal information stored in e-memory can fall into the wrong hands. . . . Lucid, eminently readable."--Winifred Gallagher, "Globe and Mail"

""Delete" is one of a number of smart recent books that gently and eruditely warn us of the rising costs and risks of mindlessly diving into new digital environments--without, however, raising apocalyptic fears of the entire project. . . . [Mayer-Schonberger] is a digital enthusiast with a realistic sense of how we might go very wrong by embracing powerful tools before we understand them."--Siva Vaidhyanathan, "Chronicle of Higher Education"

"In this brief book, Mayer-Schonberger focuses on a unique feature of the digital age: contemporaries have lost the capacity to forget. Many books on privacy frequently mention, but never address in detail, the implications of an almost perfect memory system that digital technology and global networks have brought about. . . . An interesting book, well within the reach of the intelligent reader."--"Choice""

"Clearly the conversation has begun, and "Delete" is well placed to contribute."--Matthew L. Smith, "Identity in the Information Society"

From the Back Cover

"If the gathering, storage, and processing of information puts us all in the center of a digital panopticon, the failure to forget creates a panopticon crossbred with a time-travel machine. Mayer-Schonberger catalogs the range of social concerns that are arising as technology favors remembering over forgetting, and offers some approaches that might give forgetting a respected place in the digital world. Read this book. Don't forget about forgetting."--David Clark, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

""Delete" is, ironically, a book you will not forget. It provides a sweeping but well-balanced account of the challenges we face in a world where our digital traces are saved for life. These issues transcend just issues of privacy but go to the heart of how our society and we as individuals function, remember, and learn. I highly recommend this most informative and delightful book."--John Seely Brown, University of Southern California, coauthor of "The Social Life of Information"

"An erudite and wide-reaching account of the role that forgetting has played in history--and how forgetting became an exception due to digital technology and global networks. Mayer-Schonberger vividly depicts the legal, social, and cultural implications of a world that no longer remembers how to forget. "Delete" deserves the broadest possible readership."--Paul M. Schwartz, Berkeley School of Law

"In a work of extraordinary breadth and erudition, Viktor Mayer-Schonberger broadens the 'privacy' debate to encompass the dimension of time. His concept of 'digital forgetting' reshapes how sociologists, technologists, and policymakers must define and protect individual autonomy as technology usurps the prerogatives of human memory."--Philip Evans, Boston Consulting Group

"Human society has taken for granted the fact of forgetting. Technology has made us less able to forget, and this change, as Mayer-Schonberger nicely demonstrates, will have a profound effect on society. We as a culture must think carefully and strategically about this incredibly significant problem. "Delete" will spark a debate we need to have."--Lawrence Lessig, author of "Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy"

""Delete" is a refreshingly philosophical take on the new dilemmas created by extensive digital documentation of our daily lives. Mayer-Schonberger's background in business and technology leads him to a creative and novel response to the challenges generated by persistent storage of data. "Delete" is a valuable contribution."--Frank Pasquale, Seton Hall Law School"

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
When I first heard about this book, I had a look at some of the reviews that are floating around the web. While some seem to wholeheartedly agree with the argument, others take a quite critical stance. At any rate, the book seems to have hit a nerve and stirred up a lot of debate. I cannot think of a better recommendation.

Mayer-Schoenberger is a former Harvard-Professor and long-time information policy expert. His basic argument is that, in the digital age, the default has changed from forgetting to remembering. More and more information is stored for eternity, made accessible through digital infrastructure like search engines and databases.

Some of the consequences he outlines are more or less the ones you would expect: privacy, panopticon, etc. Others struck me as quite fascinating. For example, he tells the story of a woman who leafs through old e-mails. She discovers an exchange with a friend of hers, full of mutual accusations and betrayals. And although this had happened many years ago and the argument had long been settled, she felt the old anger creeping up again. Mayer-Schoenberger uses this little scene to ask a number of important questions: does perfect memory make it harder for us to change over time? Does remembering make us less forgiving as a society?

He then goes on to discuss the pros and cons of a number of possible responses. His own solution is to advocate a "revival of forgetting". One of his - quite creative! - ideas is to call for "expiration dates" for data -- dates after which a data set will not be available anymore. While not a magic bullet, this may definitely be a way of raising awareness and engaging users with the issues.
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Format: Paperback
I saw a reference to this recently, and it reminded me that I must say something about it. In Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger discusses the fact that, for the first time in history, the balance between remembering and forgetting has been altered. Our default state is to forget stuff, but now we, through our technology, can remember everything.

As he says,

A society that never forgets, may stop forgiving. That unfortunate photo of yourself, or that article you wrote whilst a student, may come back to haunt you years, even decades, later.

Such a situation leads people to self-censor, not just in the here and now, but with one eye on the future. It reminds me of a science fiction story I read in which crime was effectively eradicated because the police used cameras that could go back in time to record actual events instead of people's recollections of them.

Mayer-Schönberger's suggestion is that we should remember to forget. Technology can help us by prompting us to specify expiration dates for the data we store.

I'm not sure that will ever happen, and I suspect that what will save us in the end is te fact that as technology changes it becomes harder to access things created with older technology. But it's a fascinating hypothesis.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A few months ago, a student who went a bit overboard in a nightclub in Cardiff ended up having her activities posted on the Internet. Such behaviour by student isn't of course new, but the difference now is that footage of bad behaviour can be filmed and distributed to a scale unimaginable just a decade ago.

A problem for this poor student is that their name will be permanently linked on the Internet to what she did one night out with her friends, accessible to anyone, future in-laws and employers (a few career options will be probably out of bounds). The book highlights such problems and predicts its social impact.

It raises the next big pressing issue about personal data, how old information can be used against us.
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If you use the internet, or send emails, or live life outside of a sealed cupboard you need to read this. It shows how the things we do become permanent (and can come back to 'bite' us) and things that we could delete we don't because that takes time and storage is cheaper than time!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mayer-Schonberg's account of the perils of instant digital recall may be slight, but it isn't wrong in its conclusions about the creation of a present that we can never switch off. There is a deeper question here that he footles about with on exactly why we would want to arrange ourselves in such a way as to never have a forgotten moment, at least not anything recorded digitally. With the expansion of devices to do such a thing, we might all be headed for the fate of data-bore Gordon Bell but for the reality that he shows exactly how dull life can be by recording it in such anodyne detail. The implications for social arrangements are potentially filled with the sort of conflicts of interest Mayer-Schonberger so dutifully records.

Won't we eventually come to the realization that we aren't all saints? Mayer-Schonberger might also be taken to task for exactly the same fault: his argument about art and culture is astonishingly ahistoric, but it does not mean that some long cherished ideas about the public space are not in danger. It is this that brings us to a different conclusion: given the initial freedom of cyberspace has now been colonised by the corporates, won't the real effect of this behaviour be to eliminate the individual from the Internet except as a corporate actor?
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