Study: Social Media Making Forgetting Romantic Breakups Difficult

by Rukmani Krishna on May 13 2013 11:49 PM

 Study: Social Media Making Forgetting Romantic Breakups Difficult
Even though digital photos and emails can be deleted in no time, the proliferation of social media has made getting over a romantic breakup a bigger chore than in the bygone era.
According to a study, ubiquitous digital records of a once beloved keep lurking on Facebook, tumblr, and flicker, makes it difficult to forget painful memories.

Steve Whittaker, a psychology professor at UC Santa Cruz who specializes in human-computer interaction, said people are keeping huge collections of digital possessions, and there has been little exploration of the negative role of digital possessions when people want to forget aspects of their lives.

In a paper, "Design for Forgetting: Disposing of Digital Possessions after a Breakup," Whittaker and co-author Corina Sas, of Lancaster University, examine the challenges of digital possessions and their disposal after a romantic breakup. Sas worked on the research as a visiting professor at UCSC.

Digital possessions include photos, messages, music, and video stored across multiple devices such as computers, tablets, phones, and cameras. Their pervasiveness creates problems during a breakup, as people 'inhabit' their digital space where photos and music constantly remind them about their prior relationship, the study states.

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.

Disposal is made more difficult today because digital possessions are in vast collections spread across multiple devices, applications, web-services, and platforms, the study further states.

Whittaker and Sas propose that software solutions might help scrub cyberspace of painful memories, for instance automatic "harvesting" using facial recognition, machine learning or entity extraction.