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Facebook makes break-ups harder to take, study says

There is a certain torture that social networking brings, a University of California, Santa Cruz study finds. Many find it difficult to delete digital memories.

Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It hurts when your lover casts you aside.

Especially when you know that he or she is acting out of self-loathing, personal inadequacy, or a complete lack of appreciation for your hidden joys.

And yet, in this world where everything is recorded by a social network (and/or a government), there are parameters that makes the pain more acute.

As a University of California, Santa Cruz study has discovered, Facebook can make a break-up even worse.

It seems that even when we have been kicked to the curb with more unfairness than a Turkmeni election we find it hard to delete our digital mementos.

As the Daily Mail reports, even though half of the respondents said they immediately get rid of all digital records of a love gone awry, even they regret it. One-third can't press the delete button on their digital memories at all.

How on earth can they rid themselves of the romantic photos taken in the mountains above Las Vegas -- the ones where love seemed to rise above the skies? How can they destroy the slightly tipsy images of cuddling, silly faces and long, lazy days on the beach? And then there are the naked photos.

These all constitute the chronicles of something that should have been great, but was spoiled by the interference of family, friends, career -- or merely temporary insanity.

The Mail quoted Steve Whittaker, a UC Santa Cruz psychology professor: "There has been little exploration of the negative role of digital possessions when people want to forget aspects of their lives."

Well, researchers have been too busy recording the negative role of digital possessions when people don't want to forget aspects of their lives. Whittaker and his co-researcher, Corina Sas of Lancaster University in England, realized that digital memories are now held on all sorts of devices in all sorts of forms.

There might be videos and photographs. There might be Facebook posts, texts and tweets. But there's also the e-mail where she described you as her "quintessential hero."

How are you supposed to delete that? She might not be talking to you now, but anyone who once thought that of you might come back. And then what? You're supposed to start all over again? That's just too much work.

And if she comes back and discovers you've deleted everything, she might never forgive you.

It's all exacerbated by the fact that we spend so much of our lives in digital spaces. Our noses and minds are in phones and laptops. The state of our hearts is often displayed on an hourly basis.

Even though the sample of this research could hardly be called significant (24), what hung out like a parched tongue was that it was the dumped who were most reluctant to delete their immediate and loving past.

The most painful moment is, allegedly, changing your status to "single." Here is where shame and pain entwine their thighs around each other.

For many, the happier the relationship is, the more digital evidence exists of its joy and glory.

This means more to delete. And, worse, more that can't be deleted.

On Facebook, for example, it may well be that you choose to delete your past. But if others have re-posted your updates, they still exist on their feeds and the feeds of everyone who might have disseminated them further.

If your name has been tagged, this is the digital equivalent of a permanent tattoo.

Naturally, Whittaker and Sas dream of software that can automatically erase all trace of love's labor lost or merely left for dead. But this would surely mess up just one of Mark Zuckerberg's many dreams.

All these digital traces are there to define you, so that advertisers can more accurately sell you condoms when you're happy, tissues when you're sad and false passports when you need to flee the country.

The socially networked world depends on truly detailed information. You can't think that you can just incise chunks out of it to save your insipid emotions.

Life's rich tapestry must be digitally recorded for ever. If that causes you doubt, sorrow and pain, tough.

On the other hand, your ex might change their mind. They might return, cap in hand, head bowed, suddenly admitting to guilt, shame and even -- in an ideal world -- fault.

In which case, thank heavens for Facebook's magnetic servers.