Digging up the past

February 10, 2020

This week, my Whatsapp ping sounded…I opened the message and thought, “Oh, no!” The message read, “Our dancing is now forever memorialised on the cyberspace of social media, lol”. This was less of laugh out loud, more like cry in my tea time!

My dancing saved forever! It was even worse than dad dancing; we were pulled onto the floor to partake in what you might describe as a kind of folk dancing – we were guests and felt obliged. With camera phones out, it was an inevitability it would end up on the web.

This followed a similar experience on Facebook. A recent joiner, I just got my cyber identity and ever since I’ve been getting dopamine kicks watching my ‘likes’ go up – I’m hooked. This week someone posted on my timeline a picture from yesteryear. Me wearing a Michael Jackson-type jacket – not my finest hour. I was left thinking, where did they dig this up from?

These experiences made me wonder what effect the digitisation and documentation of our lives is having on our identity. And more specifically, on our ability to evolve as a person; to leave the past behind and move on.

For me, these digital footprints were tame; others have been treated less well: a naked photo or ill-judged tweet means the person is shamed or has to go on the apology trail. One wrong step and our reputations or careers can be seriously affected. What does this mean if we want to leave behind or forget our past?

Kate Eichhorn, who wrote the book The End of Forgetting: Growing Up with Social Media, shares an interesting thought: “Forgetting—that once taken-for-granted built-in resource that all humans possessed”[1] is now becoming lost because of social media. She believes humans have a right to forget. This idea is explored by Nausicaa Renner in the New Yorker, “the implication is that the ability to detach from one’s past self—to move laterally, as an individual, into a newer self or personality—is a democratic ideal”. And when I think about some of my words and actions, I want to claim that right from time to time.

I was talking to an elderly lady just yesterday. She expressed what many people feel, “if my life was shown in technicolour then I’d be so ashamed”. This surprised me because she was a woman of faith (aren’t they meant to be perfect?!). I took the liberty to think, what if she met God, would he have it recorded? Even if we’re not religious, for so many of us this thought appears in the fabric of our psyche. How many of us, even if agnostic, have in the back of our minds a sense that ‘someone up there’ may be looking down on us digitalising and documenting all of our mistakes?

If there is an omniscient being, then how can we ever escape our pasts? Instead, we wait for an awkward future conversation with the incriminating evidence – a picture, even! But I came to find the right to forget is actually a cornerstone of Christian thought, too.

When I looked into the Christian message in more detail, I found something refreshingly different. Instead of encountering a God who never forgets, I encounter a God who does forget, who does erase. Someone who will let go so that I can let go, who will forgive me so I can forgive myself. I read a biblical poet who put it like this, “As far as the eastern horizon is from the west, so he removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us”.[2]

I don’t want to be glib or simplistic, this idea will not erase algorithms nor make others act more carefully with our images. It does not attempt to. It is an idea to help our psychological self move on, to move forward. Allowing the past to be forgotten and healing to begin – to become a newer version of ourselves without the burden of guilt. Seeking and asking for forgiveness can sometimes be complicated (especially when we don’t see God). But maybe with the Christian God, whatever the ins and outs are, in the end, it means that he will not pull out a picture and say, “So what’s this”?

If you want to learn more about forgiveness and the offer of a newer you, then feel free to reach out at the below email address.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] https://www.newyorker.com/books/under-review/how-social-media-shapes-our-identity
[2] The Bible, Psalm 103:12 (NET)