Despite being commonly perceived as a negative, the ability to forget has tremendous value. It allows us to avoid learning irrelevant information and to think more creatively. Ironically, it can also allow us to remember more effectively. Forgetting can protect our sanity from incidences of extreme trauma. And forgetting, whether unconsciously or willingly, is critical to healthy human relationships.
It is a good thing to forget that your significant other failed to take out the garbage last week. It’s good that your significant other forgot about the incident when you totally overreacted to something his mother said. It’s gracious to forget moments that others found embarrassing; it’s helpful to forget when you’ve been slighted in some minor fashion. Forgetting is not always to be desired, but when it’s good, it’s great.
Sadly, social media is generally not designed to allow us to forget. Those horrible pictures of us. That self-obsessed period we went through. The embarrassing argument played out on each other’s Facebook walls. I would prefer for people not to have an online record of all the times I’ve been less than my highest self.
So it’s not surprising that Snapchat, the social network with built-in forgetfulness, is so successful. Last year, a $485.6 million funding round valued the company at $10 billion. Snapchat has over 100 million users per month. Over 700 million Snaps and over 1 billion Stories are shared every day. Last July, in a study conducted by Sumpto, 70% of college students said they post on Snapchat at least once a day. The students also rated Snapchat highest for privacy (Facebook, unsurprisingly, ranked lowest).
19-year-old Andrew Watts recently explained why young people love Snapchat: “There aren't likes you have to worry about or comments -- it’s all taken away. Snapchat has a lot less social pressure attached to it compared to every other popular social media network out there. This is what makes it so addicting and liberating… [It] really focuses on creating the Story of a day in your life, not some filtered/altered/handpicked highlight. It’s the real you.”
Watts’ insight is profound: the “you” you want to remember isn’t the “you” of your everyday mundanity. It is the curated version, the aspirational version. Those moments we choose to post for posterity are the “filtered/altered/handpicked” highlights; they are not the moments in which we are free to be ourselves. To access that level of freedom, we need to know we’ll be able to forget.
The generation that has never known what it’s like to be disconnected has proven to be the first to appreciate the value of forgetfulness. I wonder if the rest of us will follow suit.