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Our Digitally Undying Memories

March 6, 2010

Siva Vaidhyanathan in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“I forgot to remember to forget,” Elvis Presley sang in 1955. I know that it was 1955 because I just Googled the title and clicked on the link to the Wikipedia entry for the song.

How cool is that? Not long ago, I would have had to actually remember that Elvis recorded the song as part of his monumental Sun Records sessions that year. Then I would have had to flip through a set of histories of blues and country that sit on the shelf behind me. It might have taken five minutes to do what I did in five seconds. I almost don’t need my own memory any more.

That strikes many of us as a good thing: the costs low, the benefits high. We can be much more efficient and comprehensive now that a teeming collection of documents sits just a few keystrokes away.

But as Viktor Mayer-Schönberger argues convincingly in his book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age (Princeton University Press, 2009), the costs of such powerful collective memory are often higher than we assume. [More]

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