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Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age Paperback – July 25, 2011
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"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
"Unlike so many books about the internet, which like to hit the panic button then run, Mayer-Schönberger stays around to offer a solution. . . . Mayer-Schönberger 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-Schönberger 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-Schönberger 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-Schönberger 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-Schönberger 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-Schönberger 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-Schönberger 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-Schönberger'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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Mayer-Schonberger then argues that there are serious social problems associated with this change that most people have failed to fully understand. Perhaps his largest concern is that perfect digital memory will freeze how someone is perceived because a perfect record of a person's past deeds or misdeeds will create an illusion that we know the person's character and thereby deny the reality that people change over time. He also believes that perfect memory will overwhelm us with meaningless data that will make it hard to decide how to act. He also points out that some information is more easily digitized than others, so the digital record is incomplete and will distort our decision-making when we assume its comprehensiveness. Here I thought he missed an opportunity to talk about the general trend toward quantitative analysis at the expense of qualitative analysis. These two trends--quantitative analysis and the rise of digital computing and digital memory--obviously are mutually reinforcing.
I found the first part of the book to be a fascinating and insightful, if also unsettling, read. Perhaps because of my background in philosophy, I enjoyed his big-picture cultural analysis.
The second part of the book is rather different. Here he comes back to Earth and looks at some proposed solutions, ultimately favoring a modest and speculative proposal for expiration dates for digital records. This part of the book is thematically related to the first but gets deeper in the weeds than many readers might be expecting after the 30,000-foot analysis of the first part of the book. This part of the book is probably of interest to a narrower group of readers and in some ways seems more targeted to academics or professionals in the field than to a general readership, unlike the first part of the book that could appeal to anyone interested in culture and history.
Mayer-Schonberger's writing is exceptionally clear and well-organized but can be repetitive. Whether that is a good thing depends upon how you're reading the book. If you're tackling it over a long period of time or are listening with distractions to the audio book, the repetitions and reminders of what has come before are useful, but if you are reading it in a couple of sittings, you might prefer a leaner style. By the way, I "read" this book mostly be listening to the audiobook, which has excellent narration.
Overall, I liked the book and found it gave me a new lens for thinking about the increasing prominence of computers in society.
I think if the author revised younger audience -- middle school/high school age -- it should be required reading. It should be a text book for that age group.