None of us are Lazarus Long, we will all die. Just as we are born so to will we at some point, either by natural events or by malfeasance, fade away from living memory.
As much as we would all like to be remembered for all of human memory the chances of us being a Churchill, a Martin Luther King, or even a Genghis Kahn are next to nil.
But that was the illusion that the Web has given us – a sense of permanence, that even after our physical bodies have retired to the dirt our thoughts, dreams and opinions will live on.
It’s a nice dream but a dream all the same. It is a dream that two people I respect highly touched on in recent posts.
The first one is from Louis Gray where he talks about whether or not people’s social profiles should live on past their death. This conversation came about because of Facebook suggesting that Louis should think about re-connecting with one of his Facebook contacts – who had passed away in January from cancer.
Today’s leading social networks might do fantastic work for connecting people at various stages of their lives. They can find friends from high school and college, or link up colleagues from your work history. They might find you new dates or even spouses. But it looks like they stink when it comes to dealing with one’s data when they actually pass on. Is it too morbid for them to think about? Would it be too nuts if there was a “Report Person as Deceased” button on the account? Should it be treated with an editorial process, similar to Wikipedia, where you have to cite a source and show an obituary?
Either way, the way we just leave things hanging in a position of suspended animation doesn’t work for me. If social networks are to celebrate births, celebrate life’s milestones and mark bad news as well, they should be ready for the final passage to whatever’s next. I welcome good ideas.
Then this was followed by a post from Doc Searls where he talked about Persephone Miel and the permanence of her memory after her losing the fight against cancer. The subject had him wondering how long in our world of ever increasing, and manipulated, need to live in the now would any of the works of this beautiful and talented person really last.
As evidence of his concern Doc notes that it is becoming increasingly hard to find things that he has written in the past. Whether it be Google or Twitter what was once accepted as being there forever is actually disappearing faster than we might think.
Persephone is gone, but her work isn’t, and that’s what I want to talk about. It’s a subject I wanted to bring up with her, and one I’m sure all her friends care about. We all should.
What I want to talk about is not “carrying on” the work of the deceased in the usual way that eulogizers do. What I’m talking about is keeping Persephone’s public archives in a published, accessible and easily found state. I fear that if we don’t make an effort to do that — for everybody — that we’ll lose them.
The Web went commercial in 1995, and has only become more so since. Today it is a boundless live public marketplace, searched mostly through one company’s engine, which continues to adapt accordingly. While Google’s original mission (“to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”) persists, its commercial imperatives cannot help but subordinate its noncommercial ones.
In my own case I’m finding it harder and harder to use Google (or any search engine) to find my own archived work, even if there are links to it. The Live Web, which I first wrote about in 2005, has come to be known as the “real time” Web, which is associated with Twitter and Facebook as well as Google. What’s live, what’s real time, is now. Not then.
Today almost no time passes between the publishing of anything and its indexing by Google. This is good, but it is also aligned with commercial imperatives that emphasize the present and dismiss the past. No seller has an interest in publishing last week’s offerings, much less last year’s or last decade’s. What would be the point?
At one time our libraries were considered to be the collection of all human knowledge. We place incredible value on the physicality of the contents of libraries like the Library of Congress. Our civilization looks upon the destruction of those vaults of human knowledge as painful turning points as history records the loss of the Royal Library of Alexandria.
And yet we are driving headlong into trying to persevere our human, and individual, histories in a medium that we have no control over. With books, manuscripts, paintings we have a physical thing that can be carefully curated and looked after for hundreds, if not thousands, of year. Yet we are trusting that history to a medium that can’t be curated whether it be DVDs or even on the Web beyond the next database crash or data rot on DVDs.
Twitter doesn’t care about the past. Facebook couldn’t careless about you before or after you die so other than fodder for their advertising engine your history could disappear tomorrow and no-one would care. Even the online repository of your lives will be gone the moment that a payment on whatever domain you have doesn’t get paid.
The history of mankind is being entrusted into a medium that no longer believes in the past. Our own personal histories are as fleeting as the ones and zeros that we have entrusted them to.
So as much as we might like to believe that we will carry on after we are gone the fact is – we won’t.
And maybe that is the way it should be.
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