Can You "Forgive and Forget" in an Internet Age?

One of the most e-mailed New York Times articles right now is a sobering piece by Jeffrey Rosen, a George Washington University Law professor. It's entitled "The Web Means the End of Forgetting" ( For any of us who've ever done something we regret, especially for those who've either posted compromising photos online or been the victims of unwanted Internet exposure, this article shows just how hard it is to remove the digital stain of our failings.

Rosen writes: "The fact that the Internet never seems to forget is threatening, at an almost existential level, our ability to control our identities; to preserve the option of reinventing ourselves and starting anew; to overcome our checkered pasts."

He continues: "the permanent memory bank of the Web increasingly means there are no second chances — no opportunities to escape a scarlet letter in your digital past. Now the worst thing you’ve done is often the first thing everyone knows about you."

Screwing up was painful enough before the Internet. Now, if someone (or you yourself) should upload something incriminating against you, it may haunt you for life. This gives pause to everyone, especially parents shepherding their digitally-native offspring through the online world. What does it mean to find forgiveness, when our failings are so hard to erase and so easy to access? Oddly enough, this brave new world may make genuine integrity even harder to come by as people may just find better ways to hide their shame (in fact, as the article points out, there are now web-based companies whose mission it is to help restore people's reputations by finding ways to hide or cover their incriminating behavior on the web).

Rosen draws our attention to a recent book by the cyberscholar Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age.” Mayer-Schönberger notes that a society in which everything is recorded “will forever tether us to all our past actions, making it impossible, in practice, to escape them.” He concludes that “without some form of forgetting, forgiving becomes a difficult undertaking.”

How grateful I am that our God has a backspace button! The Internet may never forget our sins, but God graciously erases them through the sacrificial death of his Son, Jesus Christ. Incriminating images, compromising photos, embarrassing texts--all deleted from God's memory! "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed! (2Corinthians 5:17). Friends, believe the Good News!

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