Data is everywhere. While your photos, documents and emails for the last two decades are probably archived and accessible somewhere, your tweets, social media updates, instant messages and blogs are not only on the internet for all time, but fully indexed and searchable by Google.
It was the fashion a few years ago to ditch worldly possessions, live out of a laptop and declare yourself a ‘digital minimalist’. There were excitable news reports on the ‘cult of less’, irritating TED talks, books and blogs, but thanks to cloud accounts, Flickr and portable HDDs it has transpired that data is just as hard to prune as physical possessions.
“Currently, ‘forgetting’ data – i.e. deliberately deleting it – routinely requires more effort than having it preserved,” says Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford and author of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. “This increases the ‘cost’ of digital forgetting, and thus tilts the default towards preservation. As a consequence digital minimalists need to spend significant time and effort to get rid of data.”