Last week at the OII we were treated to an enchanting presentation by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger on his new book ‘Delete – The Virtue of Forgetting in a Digital Age‘. You can listen to an interview with Viktor talking about the book here.
The key thesis of the book is that, whilst in the past, forgetting was the default. Humans forget things. In a digital age, remembering is default. Computers, with cheap storage, can keep a copy of just about everything.
It is that new default, the default of remembering, that lies at the heart of many of the social challenges the Internet might present. The Facebook photos from teenage years that surface during job applications. The news report of a misdemeanour that appears top of Google searches for an individuals name, even though the midemenour took place years ago. The digital footprint that only grows and never shrinks. The comments on message boards that come back to haunt you.
This default of remembering is technical, legal and social: the technical choice of service providers to keep content indefinitely; the legal defaults that mean an individual can’t easily request information about them to be removed from what is now a very accessible public record (compare the news report indexed online and available with one click of a search button, to the news report which, though stil theoretically accessible years after being published only available on microfiche); and the social defaults of sharing content about other people without their consent, and of, as an individual, not going back to audit, and potentially remove some of, the content one has put online about oneself.
In ‘Delete’ Viktor explores a range of different responses that could move us back to a better equilibrium between ‘remembering’ and ‘forgetting’ – and at least one involves us each changing the way we think about keeping and deleting the digital content we are responsible for.
Youth work potential
‘Delete’ offers a great entry point into thinking about the Internet in youth work contexts. Not least
- Using examples from ‘Delete’ to discuss online content with a youth group
- Ask group members when they last deleted content online;
- Ask if anyone has ever asked a friend to delete photos, videos or comments online;
- Talk about whether the default should be remembering or forgetting, and what the pros and cons on each side are
- Exploring your ‘Delete’ policy
- If you use digital media with your youth groups, how long do you leave it online for?
- How do you agree this with the group? Is it a discussion point?
- Memories are not usually there one moment, gone the next – but they fade and become trickier to access over time. How can your archives fade, rather than be deleted? (For example, you might remove individual photos from a project website, but keep group photos after a set time; or you might replace full project details with a project summary on the web – but keep a digital copy of content in the project’s archives).
If you use ‘Delete’ as the basis for work with young people, make sure you share the story of what you did with others over on Youth Work Online.