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Ellia's clothes are drenched with brown. She has put on her pants. In the back, on the back, you can see it clearly on her Facebook photo. It also says that this has happened to her for the second time today. Basically, no special attention is needed, Ellia is only a few weeks old. But her mother uploaded the photo to the web, where it is now accessible to everyone, like so many others of the little girl and her sisters, who are just as little. The parents have been maintaining the site for years. Millions should follow them. They want to give other parents a realistic, far from perfect insight into their family life, they write. The two appear to be quite sympathetic, which should perhaps be mentioned.
Two decades ago, no one would have thought of setting up a camera for such everyday tasks as that of little Ellia. Comparatively inexpensive devices have been around for decades, but until shortly after the turn of the millennium, they still had to be used to go to the drugstore to have prints made. Ellia's parents would also have presumably not photographed or filmed anything of the event, let alone worn the film to develop it, and then, later on, show it in the living room. To whom? But today every adult always has a cell phone with a camera at hand, and the pictures can be put online without any effort and with practically no delay. Twenty years ago, Ellia would probably have been spared the later confrontation with her younger self. Or if her parents had already thought of taking pictures of the disaster, the girl could have torn these pictures up a few years later and flushed them into the toilet. Today they will probably stay online. Probably forever. What will that actually do with Ellia and all the other children?
The American media scientist Kate Eichhorn even dedicated an entire book to this question in 2019. The End of Forgetting is it[calledDoesn'tthatsoundabitdramatic?AlreadyinthefirstyearafterthestartofGoogle Photos in spring 2015, 200 million people used the service every month and uploaded a total of 13.7 petabytes of data from photos. It would take centuries to see through them all. But Google has tagged these images with two trillion labels and made them searchable for everyone. According to Eichhorn, "baby" is one of the most common tags. She quotes from a British survey from which it can be extrapolated that around 1,000 photos of almost every preschool child are already in circulation online. Eichhorn can therefore be of the opinion that the question is relevant whether and how the omnipresence of our pictures influences how we will remember ourselves in the future. Whether forgetting is still possible.
Tabula rasa of consciousness
Friedrich Nietzsche praised forgetting as "tabula rasa of consciousness, so that there is room for something new ". It guarantees the maintenance of mental order and calm. Without forgetting, according to Nietzsche, no happiness, no hope, no pride. Without forgetting, he philosophized, no present.
Modern neuroscientists agree that the brain forgets – with intention. Michael Anderson and Simon Hanslmayr, for example, describe how this works between the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus and also name the benefit: To maintain positive emotions, belief in certain facts and trust, they say, it may be necessary to have access to memories, that could undermine this condition. "Not all memories are equally welcome in awareness." You could also have written: "Nietzsche was right." Her colleagues Donna Bridge and Joel Voss also demonstrated by means of an MRI that our brain "edits" these memories on top of that.
The knowledge leads directly back to Sigmund Freud, the deep drill of our self. He described this editing a good century ago and developed a concept to explain it psychologically. In conversations with his patients – and probably also with himself – he found that we typically see ourselves in the middle of remembered childhood scenes and look at them from the outside. So we remember from a perspective that we couldn't have actually experienced so impossible. Rather, it is an image that we create of ourselves. So every child and adolescent has always taken pictures of themselves on a psychological level – even long before children and adolescents themselves had access to cameras to take real pictures, i.e. photographs.