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I’ll be the first to say that I’m a forgetful person. Whether it’s remembering hours late that a load of my laundry was taking up a dryer or letting deadlines turn into unpleasant surprises, I have an unhealthy habit of allowing things for which I am accountable to slip through the cracks of my mind. 

Unfortunately, the inaccuracy and inaccessibility of memory are not always as innocuous as forgetting the placement of a University ID card. The recent confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee that was contingent on a 36-year-old memory riddled with uncertainties has revealed a darker side. The process has exposed frustration over such accusations, which concern times long past. 

The parties’ inability to recall specific locations, times, and people laid bare the inherent ambiguity of arguments based on conflicting memories. The witnesses often responded with “no memory of the alleged incident” or “I do not recall”, while Justice Kavanaugh stated, “The consequences [of this drama] will extend long past my nomination. The consequences will be with us for decades.” 

While the political consequences will certainly last, the reasons that ushered in the drama of Kavanaugh’s shaky path to confirmation will not. The time when simple memories would be lost to time or the details of a party might be blurred by the wash of an alcohol-infused night have been replaced by an era in which each moment we live and each interaction we share is captured and cataloged with a digital trace. Whether it be texts that transcribe an event, or pictures that document a snap of time, we have created and continue to build a record of our lives, one byte at a time. 

Through this record, the same age of technology that allows us to swipe through kindergarten photos and family vacations can immortalize a Lawnparties with a slightly redder face, or even a “blackout” that we may not be able to recall ourselves, and many more unfavorable moments. The constant presence of recordings will do more than refresh our memories of times we can either laugh or grimace at. I believe they will enforce an increased awareness of the responsibility one has over oneself, and at the very least a form of accountability. 

We tighten our manners in a more professional atmosphere to leave a good impression, sign our emails with “Respectfully,” and mind our comments when in the presence of those for whom we are role models, yet we lack this filter when under the lens of a camera or at the keyboard, typing a social media post. The negligent photos of today, however, won’t fade from memory. The Facebook rants and distasteful messages can’t be erased by alcohol or dodged out of existence by vague explanation. The irony in this contrast of behavior is our actions are immortalized by the endless stream of information that documents our lives, and will be the reflections against which our employers and the youth of tomorrow will judge us.

In our future, it will not be the middle-aged Brett Kavanaugh sitting before the nation attempting to clear his name and justify his past behavior. It will be the digital memories of the times in question that speak and hold us accountable.

While I hope that good nature and moral standards would be enough to guide our decisions, I take solace in the fact that the ambient glow of screens and flashes of phones shed enough light to ensure that any action can be accounted for. 

Ethan Thai is a sophomore from Chandler, Ariz. He can be reached at ehthai@princeton.edu

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