Throwback Thursday: Quit the netstalgia – we could all do with clearing our web history

We don't always need to remember the past

Share

Many people have experienced that crushing moment when they realise they’ve got to rapidly delete a few things from their internet history. So we can all feel some sympathy for Google after the landmark “Right to be forgotten” ruling made by the EU against them recently, which has forced them to remove personal data from search results upon request.

Last week Google unveiled their form for these requests, and the whole affair isn’t going down well. While some call it a victory for privacy, many complain it reeks of censorship and has no legal oversight. And theoretically they’re right – we know the importance of free speech and the terrible dangers of censorship. Have you read Fahrenheit 451? There are nasty robot dogs and things, no-one wants that.

But in this case let’s make an exception. For God’s sake, let’s hit the delete key - because we’re all too caught up in our digital past.

Every generation is nostalgic, but the internet has created a space where this natural impulse is indulged beyond where it’s healthy. Conventional wisdom is to ‘let go’ of the past and move on, but how is this possible when Facebook timelines track your life from beginning to end, LinkedIn curates a glumly underwhelming list of career detritus and Twitter maintains your every passing moronic thought?

And the internet doesn’t just offer the opportunity to dwell on old memories, it positively encourages it. The recent popularity of the TimeHop app (which reposts old social media activity) demonstrates this, as does the success of ‘Throwback Thursday’, a Twitter hashtag game built entirely around sharing old photos.

All of this feeds our sense of self-obsession, where everything we’ve done seems important because it’s immortalised on the internet like an essential bulletin. Photo albums and keepsakes have existed before, but now nearly everyone has thousands of pictures of and information about themselves – unfiltered, relentlessly promoted and easily recalled at will.

Forget prospective employers Googling you - in 20 years the internet will have made it literally impossible for anyone to be elected to a public office. How could the Women’s minister carry on when it emerges that he once liked GUYS WHO LOVE JEGGINGS on Facebook? How could the Foreign Secretary build strong international links after the dramatic reveal that she once retweeted Jeremy Clarkson?

The issues go deeper. Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror once imagined a world where our every action was recorded, and showed how it drove a cuckolded husband to obsession and violence. It’s a chilling warning to every Facebook stalker of ex-partners, but it also demonstrates a fundamental truth – the way we use the comprehensive documentation of our lives online can have negative psychological impacts.

Outside of the depression that lingering on old sorrows can obviously bring, dwelling negatively on the past has been shown to cause stress, less proactivity, disengagement, binge eating, general negativity, and even heart problems.

Beyond this, Victor Mayer-Schönberger, Professor of internet governance and regulation at the University of Oxford's Internet Institute, believes that any inability to forget limits the ability to process the world as it is now and make decisions. “The effect may be stronger when caused by more comprehensive and easily accessible external digital memory,” he said in 2011. “Too perfect a recall, even when it is benignly intended to aid our decision-making, may prompt us to become caught up in our memories, unable to leave our past behind.”

The EU ruling doesn’t solve any of this, and of course it’s not great that people could now erase their misdeeds from digital record. But it establishes a precedent whereby your personal data might be a little less easy to dig out of the web – and that might be something we need. The capacity to leave some things in the past, to move on is valuable – and that, unlike anything else, is being forgotten.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

£8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

£55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Police officers attempt to stop illegal migrants from jumping onto trucks headed for Britain in the northeastern French port of Calais on October 29, 2014  

Tighter security in Calais won’t solve the problem

Nigel Morris
 

Football needs its Martin Luther moment, and soon

Boyd Tonkin
US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines