We all want to be remembered, just not forever online
Published 12/07/2014 | 21:54
Most of us spend our lives hoping to be remembered.
Remembered for great performance at work. Remembered for great performance on the sports field.
When we're at school, we hope that in years to come, fellow students will recall the stunning job we did in the school play.
We might even hope that teachers, long after we've moved to Australia or are heading up our own international company in New York, will talk about the marks we got in our Leaving Cert.
We want to be remembered. We have a visceral need to be remembered.
Five hundred years ago, craftsmen making pianos carved their names somewhere in the wooden framework as a way of saying to someone in the distant future: "See my handiwork? See the beauty I created?"
Even at the level of graffiti, the urge to be remembered is expressed. "Kilroy was here," the traditional announcement painted on a wall, is a cry for eternity.
But we also want some aspects of our past forgotten. For the most part, they're not important aspects of our past, or, rather, they're not important to anybody but us.
It doesn't matter to anybody else that our mother put us in a particularly ridiculous party dress.
Or that we were really fat at age 12 and that the photograph is sitting in the family album, because who, these days, goes to the family album?
We've never, up to this point in human history, had to sue for the right to be forgotten, partly because most people never want to be forgotten, but partly, also, because we have always assumed that anybody who is remembered against their will deserves it.
Hitler (inset) deserves it. Cromwell deserves it. Catherine Nevin deserves it.
Each, to a different degree, earned their place in the records of infamy and attempts to remove them from those records are very unlikely to succeed.
Someone who takes their own life has no place in the records of infamy, but that's what has just happened to a man who posted his picture on Facebook a few days before he died by his own hand.
The picture showed him posing with his gun - the gun, it is assumed, that was instrumental in his death.
It was part of the tragedy, and if it happened 40 years ago perhaps, any member of his family would have quietly taken the snapshot out of the family album and tossed it in the fire as unrepresentative of the man and as incorrect in its portrayal of him.
The difference between then and now is that this man's face, this man's tragic self-portrait, sat there on Facebook, visible to millions, for two days after his death.
Anyone who heard about his death and the manner of his death, and who wanted to know more about him, would find the picture and - because of the nature of the picture, was likely to draw the attention of others to its existence.
It's eerily reminiscent of the old view in some primitive tribes of photographs stealing the soul of the person at whom the camera was aimed.
This man left his own soul sitting up there on Facebook for anybody to gawk at.
"The right to be forgotten" is one of those phrases nobody ever thought about until the last few years.
It came into being because of one man in continental Europe who googled his own name and found his life summed up by a debt he had incurred ten years earlier.
Not fair, he said. That's not me, he said. He fought to have that earlier aspect of himself removed.
He did us all a huge favour. Without his action, none of us would be able to erase our online presence.
It's still difficult to rub out our electronic past. But at least it's now possible.
The picture of the man with the gun has now disappeared. It's a start.