Even though photos of your ex on Facebook can be deleted with just a
click, the proliferation of social networking sites has made forgetting
after a break-up a bigger chore, a new study has found.
keeping huge collections of digital possessions," said Steve Whittaker, a
psychology professor at UC Santa Cruz who specialises in human-computer
"There has been little exploration of the negative
role of digital possessions when people want to forget aspects of their
lives," said Whittaker.
Whittaker and co-author Corina Sas, of
Lancaster University, examined the challenges of digital possessions and
their disposal after a romantic breakup.
include photos, messages, music, and video stored across multiple
devices such as computers, tablets, phones, and cameras, researchers
Their pervasiveness "creates problems during a breakup, as
people 'inhabit' their digital space where photos and music constantly
remind them about their prior relationship."
In interviews with 24
young people between the ages of 19 and 34, Whittaker and Sas found
that digital possessions after a breakup are often evocative and
upsetting, leading to distinct disposal strategies.
Twelve of the subjects were deleters, eight were keepers, and four others were selective disposers.
of the heartbroken may want to forget but are "extremely resistant to
actual deletion," Whittaker and Sas found, most often the "dumpees."
Others later regret disposing of everything.
Disposal is made more
difficult today because "digital possessions are in vast collections
spread across multiple devices, applications, web-services, and
platforms," they said.
"When the relationship is good, this
promotes a rich digital life. But when it sours people have to
systematically cull collections across multiple digital spaces,"
Facebook photos can be untagged but not deleted
if posted by someone else. "It's time consuming and emotionally taxing
because people tend to re-engage with possessions, especially photos,"
Some of the initial tactics encountered were: changing
one's relationship status to "single," immediately unfriending or
blocking ex-partner's access to ones' profile.
The study appears in the conference proceedings.