I recently read an article in the New York Times Magazine called Cyberspace When You’re Dead by Rob Walker. The piece raises the question of what happens with all that stuff that makes up our digital legacy when we pass away: not only the fate of the digital assets themselves, but also how we’ll be perceived by what we leave behind.
This made me wonder about the digital footprints following me right now: in addition to this blog, I have a couple other websites, a Facebook page, a LinkedIn page, a couple podcasts, a couple Twitter accounts, and a bunch of accounts on sites that I rarely use any more, some of which were The Hottest Thing for about 10 minutes in 2006. I also have accounts on numerous forum sites, mostly with the same username and avatar, but I’ll be darned if I can remember all the sites themselves.
There’s another 175 words that just got appended to my legacy.
With all that stuff splattered all over the internet, it’s no wonder the more internet-conscious people I know don’t bother at all with Facebook or Twitter, and if you saw their blogs– which are entirely dedicated to their professional lives– you’d think these were pretty dry people, and not the sort who would try to climb the Mastodon at the Field Museum during a company party (true story, but for another time).
I have a family member who refuses to get on Facebook because, as she puts it, “there’s a reason some people are in the past, and it’s best they stay there.” I certainly respect that. In my case, some of the people who came out of the shadows via LinkedIn and Facebook now fit into a new category of “online casual” friends, where I may or may not choose to read their updates or regularly communicate: it’s kind of like when you send Christmas cards to someone you haven’t spoken with since Johnny Carson left the Tonight Show.
Fortunately, I learned very early on that anything you put “out there”– when the internet was mostly Usenet newsgroups– could last forever and be read by anyone who wants to see it, including your grandparents and grandchildren. I’ve mentioned my very first Usenet posting here before, which still lives almost 22 years after I typed it. Yeah, in internet terms 22 years is almost “forever.”
It’s interesting that in the future people might find a newspaper article about me or other pieces I’ve written or even recordings of presentations or panels on which I’ve appeared, but they could also dig up the banalities that wind up under my name on Twitter and Facebook. Maybe I’ll be thought of as a dashing, talented raconteur with a penchant for wine… or maybe just that “Cheap Date Guy.”
In any event, I don’t see a memorial library being built for me that houses my top 250 Status Updates or videos of my cat Clark trying to chew through a 2-liter bottle. (Okay, I lied: there is no such video.) Maybe I should get some new cartridges for my fountain pen and start committing some of my wisdom to paper.
Occasionally, I’ll run across someone who decides one day to attempt to erase their digital legacy. All I can say is… good luck. Just take a stroll through the archive.org “Wayback Machine“- they’ve kept all kinds of stuff around, long after the sites and companies that made them disappeared.
I guess I’ll just have to remember who could be reading this years from now. And as long as I’m at it: Shouldn’t you kids be doing your homework instead of reading your great-great-granddad’s ramblings?