I want to forget—selectively. That’s why I stick with Google Chrome, even though Safari outclasses it in almost every way. Safari is zippy and mindful of system resources; it doesn’t slurp battery, or ever kick on a laptop’s fan. It’s prompt and polite. I think I’d call it courteous. Even Safari’s dev tools are probably objectively better than Chrome’s at this point.
However, I prefer to surf the web like an amnesiac—like someone who continually forgets, stumbling out of cyberspace, crumpled cig still lightly smoldering, figure mussed, and past erased. And for this reason, my go-to is Chrome. (It can be customized more in this regard than Safari.)
I’m terrified of tracking and predictive services. They ingrain what should be arbitrary, evanescent behaviors. A spontaneous search shouldn’t become an online identity, but, in a self-fulfilling way, it can. To combat this, I only want my web browser to know so much about me at once. When it’s able to build a profile—really, a magnified Polaroid—and it knows where to navigate before I do, I’m done. Volition is shot. I develop browsing patterns that become impossible to break. This was me after predictive features became commonplace in the late 00s. I almost never cleared my history (does anybody?), thus every letter I typed in my location bar corresponded with a website I visited too often. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t change. Web browsing like this is a Groundhog Day-like ad nauseam repeat experience, except nobody ever figures out that they’re a disgruntled news reporter, they don’t fall in love or even bonk a former classmate, and they become generally worse human beings the longer they’ve trod around.
So: I now start each session with a clean slate: No history. No bookmarks. No hocus-pocus predictive services. Drop me into faraway white-sanded Sahara, queue up my magic carpet, and allow me to fly.
Browser Config #1: Cryogenic Chrome
What This Does
This setup preserves your identity, but wipes your history after each browsing session. The author’s most common use case: I’ve visited a bunch of webpages I regret having visited, and these pages recur as suggestions whenever I type in the location bar;
Command-Q Chrome and—zap—I start over.
1. Install, Configure: Auto History Wipe
Install from the Chrome Web Store then configure options to taste. My configuration:
- Each time Chrome starts:
- Check: Clear Browsing History
- Check: Clear Download History
- Uncheck: Clear Cookies
- Check: Clear Website Data
- Check: Clear Cache
- Uncheck: Clear Saved Passwords
- Check: Clear Form Autofill Data
- When you exit Chrome:
- Uncheck: Clear Local Data
Again, I’m trying to keep myself recognized across websites, so that when I choose to navigate anywhere, I’m able to access whatever it is I want with minimal friction. (N.B., cookies are what preserve logins.)
2. Install: Empty New Tab Page
Install from the Chrome Web Store (no configuring necessary).
Without this add-on, the New Tab page will display Google services and your most visited websites (and thus ingrain tendencies). I prefer a blank screen.
3. Configure: Chrome Settings
Open Chrome’s preferences (from the menu bar or
Command-,) and configure the following:
- On startup
- Select: Open the New Tab page
- Advanced: Privacy and security
- Deactivate: Use a prediction service to help complete searches and URLs typed in the address bar
“Open the New Tab page” is selected by default; you may not need to change this setting. Prediction services will be activated by default. Deactivate this setting.
4. Delete: Bookmarks
Open Chrome’s bookmarks manager (from the menu bar or
Option-Command-B), export (if you’d like), and delete everything.
If you keep bookmarks, Chrome will populate them in the location bar (
Command-L) as you type (despite decerebrating prediction services). I instead throw URLs I may later reference into text files; Simplenote, nvALT, and Notes.app are all adequate proxies for managing bookmarks.
Browser Config #2: Always Private Safari
What This Does
This setup turns Safari into a burner browser. It saves almost nothing; back and forward navigation work, but no accessible history is maintained, and cookies don’t even persist from tab to tab, let alone from session to session. This configuration is conducive for not lingering online too long.
1. Configure: Safari Settings
Open Safari’s preferences (from the menu bar or
Command-,) and configure the following tabs/settings:
- Safari opens with: A new private window
- New windows open with: Empty Page
- New tabs open with: Empty Page
- Uncheck: Include search engine suggestions
2. Delete: Bookmarks
And, again, keep no bookmarks, otherwise they’ll appear as suggestions in the location bar too. (Access Safari’s bookmark manager from the menu bar or by
I should note: Safari does have an analog to Chrome’s Auto History Wipe—Safari Cleaner—but it hasn’t been updated in years. Steer clear.