Forgetting is one of the most understated, yet important processes that we as individuals go through. Not forgetting in the, “oh s**t I forgot to study for my midterm this week,” sense. But forgetting in the, “let it go” sense. Professor Viktor Mayer-Schönberger of Oxford’s Internet Institute, describes the importance of forgetting in his 2009 book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. “By erasing external memories, our society accepts that human beings evolve over time, that we have the capacity to learn from past experiences and adjust our behavior.” But what happens when, as a society, we begin to forget less.
I’m not suggesting that everyone’s memory has improved. In fact some studies suggest that the millennial generation is more forgetful. However, with the popularization Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever new social media app catches on by the time this gets published, we have begun constantly micro-blogging each day of our life. We no longer need to remember our own life experiences or that of our peers because it has already been meticulously documented on various social media websites.
On one hand, this phenomenon is kind of cool. With a click of a button I can relive memories from my freshman year in high school. “Hahaha awww I thought those jeans were cool.” But on the other hand, has this incessant micro-blogging limited my ability to reinvent myself? With a few clicks any number of my social media “friends” can revive the corny statuses and the embarrassing photos from a 13-year-old Greg who thought he had the whole world figured out. A savvy Google search can uncover everything that I have published on the Internet, as well as everything that has been said about me on the Internet. Whatever happened to the frontier? That place where one has unlimited opportunities and is not weighed down by the past. How am I supposed to grow in this new digital age if I am shackled down by everything that I have ever said, and that has been said about me on the Internet? What am I supposed to do with all of this digital baggage?
The simple answer is to stop using social media. Unplug myself from the Internet. If I delete my Facebook, my Twitter, etc. then I won’t have to worry about these relatively insignificant problems. But that’s too easy. Today’s world is defined by the Internet’s interconnectedness. Communities thrive on Facebook. Friendships are maintained through twitter. Social media has a tremendous amount of utility. There are a lot of reasons to use social media. Plus it’s fun.
For those who are hesitant to delete their social media accounts there are two more solutions. The first is also simple. You can just stop caring. The old, “it is what it is,” mentality. Why worry about your digital baggage if everybody else has an equal amount of it? The second solution is a bit more conservative. It stems from teachers losing jobs after posting photos of them reliving their college days. Simply think before you post. While it’s easy to treat social media like an online diary, perhaps it’s best not to post that video of you downing a Four Loko in a minute flat. Unless you truly won’t be embarrassed when your friend comments on the video 4 years later, and it pops up at the top of your timeline when you log in to check your messages.
I know that I’m not the only one concerned about what’s hidden in the depths of the World-Wide-Web. A demand for an “erasable Internet” can be seen with the increase in popularity of applications like SnapChat and Wink. These suggest that people no longer want the things they share via the Internet to haunt them forever.
All things considered, we forget less. It takes longer for people to redefine themselves because our lives have become increasingly more public. In using social media it is important to consider how much we are documenting the past for nostalgic reasons, and how much we are disclosing to the public that may hinder us from growing.
Featured Image Credit: Franco Bouly