The Materiality of Deletion

photos "deleted" from facebook took months to be removed from the URL
photos "deleted" from facebook took months to be removed from the URL

Paper: The Materiality of Deletion.

A paper delivered at The Death Panel with Jaime Soper and Li Cornfeld.

Abstract: Delete. Erase. Trash. Wipe. Shred. Tape over. Sanitize. Undo. The words used to specify the removal of a record is as diverse as the formats that it can take shape in. Files are deleted from the drive. Audio and video wiped from tapes. Words erased from paper. For more certainty, the paper can be shredded. Tapes burned. Hard drive dismantled, platters grinded.

As effortless as it seems to delete a file, undo a word, or even wipe a tape, the physical proximity and possession of the recordable medium no longer provides a tangible guarantee. The comfort of the possibility of effortless deletion has proven disruptive when the computer is plugged into the network, files systems scattered and distributed, users clicking in and sharing out. Material presence of information never guaranteed the author control of the content, but the language of expressing and representing control over information is changing.

This project is about verifying and testing the hypothesis that a meaningful change is taking place in our relationship to the materiality of deletion. My proposal is to foreground the tools, surfaces and grammar involved in record deletion across a spectrum of media. To explore the question: are we agreeing to forget without material verification?

For further details on the project, visit the research blog and “how to delete” Q&A site.