Thought for the Day - 04/06/2014 - Vicky Beeching
From beneath his dreadlocks, the Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley sang “In this bright future you can’t forget your past”. Remembering the past can be meaningful, yet most of us carry some memories we’d rather erase. The digital age has made this increasingly complex. Many of us create a daily trail of photos, videos and status updates, where our actions live on in a very tangible way.
Recently the European Court of Justice ruled that people should have ‘the right to be forgotten’ online. Specifically, the right to ask Google to remove search results about themselves that are irrelevant or outdated. Within 24 hours of the ruling, over 12,000 people had submitted requests. The Court’s decision may sound more grandiose than it is; the offensive material about you is not deleted, just the search engine’s ability to pull up the link. Plus, it only affects Google searches within the EU. Yet for some individuals, it could make a huge difference.
Living with a so-called "digital footprint” is something that previous generations have not had to navigate. A positive side effect might be the heightened sense of accountability; it may make us think twice before we act. But some of us will make serious mistakes online – especially those too young to understand the ramifications. Teenagers rarely comprehend that someday a future employer will Google their name and see ‘that’ photo of them at a party. At least for the sake of kids and teens, some right to delete digital mistakes is required.
In the Christian tradition there is much about getting a fresh start and a clean slate. “Behold I make all things new” God says in the New Testament book of Revelation. Yet alongside this there’s also plenty about him using the past, good and bad. In the book of Jeremiah, God says his people are like clay in the hands of a potter. In the process of being shaped on a potter’s wheel, a pot may completely fall apart. But he takes that misshapen clay, starts again and reforms a better pot on the wheel. It's a well-worn analogy, but in our perfectionistic, performance-driven culture it's a reminder that both our highs and our lows can be used to form and re-shape us.
So it might seem ideal to erase every Google search result about us that we dislike. But it's also important to embrace our imperfections & our mistakes as part of the journey. The past can't truly be erased from the Internet, or from our memories, but it doesn’t need to define our future. We can choose to rise above it and take this moment, this day to start writing a better story. The words of Mother Teresa remind us that this possibility is ours for the taking. As she put it: "Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. So let us begin".