With comprehensive digital memories all around us, forgetting one another’s offenses becomes more difficult; through our digital tools we’ll be alerted to all that we thought we had forgotten. This will make it harder for us to forgive.
In one of his short stories, the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges describes a young man who after an accident can no longer forget. He can remember perfectly all the books he has read, but he has been unable to learn anything from them, because learning involves the distilling of abstract thought from detailed memories, after which the latter fade away. Thus it, too, necessitates forgetting. In future Thanksgivings, our data glasses might identify family members through facial recognition, and within a split second, display old e-mails and images, tweets and posts, reminding us in excruciating detail of their (and our) past shortcomings.
Some say that we’ll adapt by disregarding these digital memories. But it is naïve to think that if so directly reminded of earlier quarrels, we’ll be able to put the revived memory aside. Our brain is trained to remember events we thought we had forgotten when given an external stimulus. Automatically disregarding revived memories is as hard as deliberately forgetting things — we can’t do it.
We need to appreciate and preserve forgetting as a feature of humanity.