by Ned Beauman
25 September 2012

In April the fifth annual BCP & IT Disaster and Data Recovery Conference was held in Mumbai. In May the fourth annual Information Destruction Exhibition & Conference was held in London. Were there any double agents who attended both? In my imagination, the information destroyers and the data recoverers are sworn enemies like UNCLE and THRUSH or SHIELD and HYDRA, always plotting to humiliate the other side. But they also have to stay in business, and in that respect it's clear who has the upper hand. In the future, there will be more and more data that needs to be destroyed, and less and less that needs to be recovered, because we are coming to the zenith of the autosave and the cloud.

The old Microsoft Word autosaved a copy of your work in the event of a crash, but when you closed the program, it still required you to make a decision about whether you wanted to keep what you'd written. But today's Google Docs autosave not only saves your work in the event of a crash, but also archives every single revision and draft and edit you've ever made, whether you ask it to or not. The difference cannot be overstated, because it shifts the relinquishment of data from a sin of omission to a sin of commission. The expression 'cloud computing' gives an impression of gustiness and impermanence (supposedly 51% of Americans believe that it doesn't function during stormy weather) but in fact the opposite is true: the cloud is an obsessive hoarder, nostalgist, recording angel.

For conscientious practitioners of history or biography, this thought is initially appetising but ultimately horrifying. If all that text is there, a palimpsest ready to be peeled, you don't really have any choice but to read the whole thing, even if the result is that it takes you almost as long to annotate your subject's project as it took your subject to complete it. And Lindsey Seers' work, like her forebear WG Sebald's, wouldn't be possible in a world of total retention. It relies on the survival of only a few photos, a few letters, a few trinkets – a story with gaps big enough for the artist to sail a church through. Seers, in her own way, is a data recoverer, and I'd like to see her give a keynote at the sixth annual Data Recovery Conference, to be held, perhaps, in Zanzibar.

When we first enter it, the futuristic flux of Nowhere Less Now in which 'no contribution [may] go beyond one holy minute' may seem like a dystopia. But on further reflection we too may view it as a 'liberation'. Not just because we'd never have to look at another Instagram picture of somebody's cupcake, but because none of us would any longer have to be Nietzsche's modern man who 'was unable to learn to forget and always clung to what was past; no matter how far or how fast he runs, that chain runs with him.' To hell with autosave. What we need is autodestroy.

Ned Beauman is a London-based author. His latest novel The Teleportation Accident was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012. His debut novel Boxer, Beetle won the UK Writers' Guild Award and the Goldberg Prize for Outstanding Debut Fiction.