Nobody has ever expected a letter, a book or a painting to tell the whole truth. When it comes to the central question of social media, however – “what are you doing?” – we are likely to treat the answer as an unvarnished insight into someone else’s life.
It is easy to get carried away with such conclusions, and talk about “bad” technologies and the vices they breed. Yet this helps no-one, and misses the point. The question is not whether we can come up with a perfect system of outsourced remembrance. It is how we can best live with the tools we’ve got: a process that must begin with becoming aware of their limitations (and ours) in the first place.
As Nietzsche knew very well, neither human memories nor intentions are entirely to be trusted. Or – as Mark Twain, another great man of his times, put it – “when I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not”.
If we can bring a little more scepticism to bear on the polished appearances we encounter online – and, perhaps, become a little less eager to burnish the way we appear to others – we may yet master the art of forgetting just enough.