Losing the Human Right to Delete


This is a dramatic sounding article about what, at first glance, might look to be a fairly insignificant and harmless phenomenon.

The Rise of Non Forgetting

It has crept in to social media platforms such as Linkedin and Facebook among others, in recent years. It involves a deliberate restriction of a bit of functionality that used to be taken for granted, and is still a basic taken for granted feature on laptops and personal computers, but is starting to disappear from the “cloud” and social media platforms where people are, more and more, creating and storing their content.

This functionality is the ability to delete something. And I mean delete. To decide to erase something so it is gone. Just as if you had burned it or shredded it. People assume they can. It has shocked quite a few people when I’ve informed them that what they think they are deleting is now being “archived” – retrievable, never lost. It’s being made harder and, in some cases, virtually impossible, to actually delete something. Instead it is often being forced or hidden away in a “vault” – whether you want that or not.

Imagine you put something in your rubbish bin and it spits it out. Imagine if you discovered that all of your rubbish, all of it, was being stored somewhere. Imagine you draft a letter or write down some thoughts and decide you want to throw it away. You take the paper to your shredder which spits it out and forces it through the air onto a shelf called “Archive.”

Losing a vital right

The human right to delete is being taken away from us, right under our noses, and often with our collusion.

You cannot delete a message on Facebook – you are given only the option to “archive” it. Want to delete it forever? Sorry, no. We’ll keep it for you. Want to insist ? You can’t.

The provider of the service has decided to serve its own (not always stated) goals over your own. It’s your content, they are your thoughts but you are not allowed to forget them.

The Power of Purging

Purging things from our lives – the act of burning them, is an inner form of cleansing. Ripping the paper from the pad and wanting to entirely begin a new page, wiping all trace of what went before, is a vital part of our creative flow, and also has always been part of the necessary refreshing of our will. Knowing we can start again, knowing we can choose to wipe clean, to scourge and purge, these are primeval aspects of time-based beings such as us humans. We can move on, knowing that we have left no trace behind. It can help us find peace of mind. A sense of closure. This has always been a fundamental part of artistry – our ability and right to start a new canvas, to clean the brushes and, most of all, to forget. It’s part of inner health, is present in so many stories in literature. It’s there in the archetype of burning, or burying in the earth, to be reclaimed by nature. When we delete, energy does not vanish from the universe, but the specific form and content is allowed to dissipate and vanish.

The Free Part of Us

I would like to suggest that the free part of our creative self – as we grow, learn and change, needs us to have the ability to fully destroy what we want to destroy – to erase, purge and “delete”. Putting things into an archive is another and different choice, important, but not the same as choosing to let something vanish irretrievably. It is our human right to decide what we keep and do not keep.

Imagine you wish to have a clear out, a big bonfire to follow in the garden. It is going to feel good, you’ll feel that the physical clearing out will help to clear you out inside too – psychologically, emotionally. Now imagine the flames on your fire refuse to burn what you put onto it. You watch as the flames flicker, but, when the blaze has died down – it is all still there, staring at you.

Interfering with Freedom

We are having our free memories interfered with. We are being denied free reign over our timelines even as we are supposedly being offered “timelines” on social media platforms such as Facebook. By not allowing us to truly delete we are being told that what we want to delete is no longer fully ours. And if we can’t truly delete then we might start avoiding that part of creation that allows us to make mistakes and learn from them. We will create cautiously, pre-editing our exploration and even our spontaneity.

Selling us our history

One day we will look back on these days as a time of craziness, where corporations tried to lay claim to those things we wanted to forget. And where they succeeded. We may even find that true deletion will become a premium priced product.

Of course, the forced replacement of “delete” with “archiving” is presented as benevolent. Yet, if it were truly benevolent, we’d not have the right to lose forever taken from us. It would be offered as a choice. Of course, given that choice, we might well just do that and delete and that would spoil the wishes of the Timeline paranoids – their paranoia based on a fear of gaps, of holes and of empty spaces they do not own and control.

The real problem

Now, if you have no problem nor difficulty with not being allowed to properly delete, then you shouldn’t be reading this. But if you feel you want your inner and outer right to throw away, to purge and delete your own thoughts, images, memories and feelings, then you will need to step away from certain online platforms completely, and also away from online and virtual tools that will ensure the providers keep a permanent, indelible record of everything you’ve ever written and shared online. You’ll need to be a lot more selective about what you put online and share “out there” In the first place. You’ll need to become more discerning.

Some of these corporations will not allow you to write your own tapestry of life. They fear the white space you create because it might be new, original and out of their control.

A Conspiracy Theory?

This might sound like a conspiracy theory but some of these providers are behaving compulsively, with a kind of control freakery; they can’t contemplate deleting anything created using their platforms. Not even a comma. They fear the empty space that is in YOUR control, because it is a place outside of their control. Yes, social media platforms are control systems, at best, Nightingale’s cages, and the bars are most definitely not set by you. One proof is this refusal to allow you to “delete”.

Archiving should be a free choice, one among a number which include “delete forever” and “save”. By replacing delete with “archive” you enter the Nightingale’s cage, and you, whether you want it or not, now have an archive, in the hands not only of you, but also the cage keeper, and you are unable to ever truly forget. The effort required to truly hide your “timeline” is set in a way that will simply tire you out.

Five Tips for Managing your Digital Forgetting

1. Think very carefully about content you post, especially to social media sites such as Facebook. Imagine into the future then look back. Are you sure that you want all of these images “in your space” forever? Be more discerning

2. Delete accounts from social media platforms that do not let you delete your content fully

3. Have an occasional purge. Go through your pictures, writings and other content. Make conscious choices about what to keep and what to delete

4. Use time-limiting apps and programs that self delete after a short time (Instagram is an example but be aware, these applications are not always as full proof as they claim)

5. Don’t allow your pictures to be tagged by other people and don’t tag yourself in other people’s content. Be prepared to ask people who photograph or film you to seek your permission before posting it online and also check that they agree to remove it at your request at any time in the future

Make a Positive Decision

So decide: if you want to maintain the right to truly purge memories, to delete and erase, to wipe your slate clean or clear some space in your head, you may have to recognise that these platforms are reaching with long fingers into even your head and your mind, and creating permanent markers and storage jars of aspects of your life you wanted to forget.

Then watch and feel – the weight starts to grow, your Marley-esque chain lengthens, an aching chain you can’t drop, forged by an inability to let go and drop. And then each step through life is laden with an enforced timeline. There will be no new lightness of being, no new page that isn’t shadowed by previous pages.

The price may well be too high. Thankfully, you can “mega”-delete at present, as a human right. But do you have that will and wish? To delete even the house you have grown used to? It may be the only option if you want to win your free flow back.


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on February 6, 2013, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. scary thought – I have only just learnt how to delete finally! It gave me a great feeling of control and power. I need now to check that some of that old stuffis not still there.
    Shirley Jaffe.

  2. Paul,
    well expressed. Mind if we re-post over on Everything Express (http://everythingexpress.wordpress.com/)? RC

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