learning to forget


“We used to have a system in which we forgot things easily and had to invest energy in remembering,” says Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “Now we’re switching to a system in which we remember everything and have to invest energy in order to forget. That’s an enormous transformation.”

Jorge Luis Borges envisioned the risks of perfect memory in his famous story “Funes the Memorious,” about a man gifted with unlimited recall, and paralyzed by it. Perhaps not even Borges, however, could have imagined our present capacity to accumulate and preserve memory in digital form – or the powerful impact it is already having on individual lives, as temporary indiscretions become part of the permanent record. “What you do online is potentially there forever,” says Coye Cheshire, an assistant professor at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley. “Delete if you want; ask Google to take down that one unflattering photo – but it’s still saved, archived, somewhere.”

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