On the Internet, Everybody Can Hear You Whisper

On the Web, our footprints are eternal. Everything we say, and do, lives forever. It means, in Jeffrey Rosen's words, the end of forgetting. Is that a good thing?

We've known for years that the Web allows for unprecedented voyeurism, exhibitionism and inadvertent indiscretion, but we are only beginning to understand the costs of an age in which so much of what we say, and of what others say about us, goes into our permanent -- and public -- digital files. The fact that the Internet never seems to forget is threatening, at an almost existential level, our ability to control our identities; to preserve the option of reinventing ourselves and starting anew; to overcome our checkered pasts...

It's often said that we live in a permissive era, one with infinite second chances. But the truth is that for a great many people, the permanent memory bank of the Web increasingly means there are no second chances -- no opportunities to escape a scarlet letter in your digital past. Now the worst thing you've done is often the first thing everyone knows about you.

After you delete your Facebook profile, cancel your Twitter account, and erase your personal blog and Flickr feed, you can relax, and read the full story at NYTimes.com.