It’s about 1:30am on a Sunday night… or Monday morning. It’s been a busy day. Household stuff in the AM, some video games to grease the mind-gears, followed by some “life maintenance” as I like to call it, tape a few auditions, upload, send, go play soccer on the National Mall with friends, head to the bar to learn some practical ASL with Dog & Pony (totally worth doing by the way), come home and find out I uploaded the wrong files, fix the fuck-up, have some tea, and poke around the internet a bit. For as much as that was a run-on sentence, it was a run-on kind of day. Minutes and hours blend together, tasks and commutes in total disagreement, but you keep going. Nothing terribly surprising about that.
Until I saw this. This is my father’s wikipedia entry.
Maybe I should say “a wikipedia entry about my father” since he didn’t actually write it. God love him, but that man struggles with email, much less navigating and editing a page of anything that isn’t made of paper. He can probably build a house with four Oreos, some string, and a deck of cards, but technology? It’s not one of his strengths.
Beyond the computer skills most of his generation missed out on, the man is a veritable font of anecdotes and life experiences. And somebody took it upon themselves to create an entry about him. Other than newspaper clippings, this is the closest thing to an encyclopedia entry most people are likely to have in the digital age, inaccuracies and overall reductiveness aside.
Moving past my feelings on the matter, it occurred to me that while finding information on the internet about people of his generation might be difficult, (unless they are of particular note or importance, and on wikipedia, who knows what that means) the same difficulty does not really exist for children today. Or does it? I mean, I suppose for the average person the odds of their names being in a publication aren’t exactly 2:1. But they don’t have to be.
New parents today are more likely than ever to have their name published online somewhere. The generation I come from (aptly called The Oregon Trail Generation; also see Mashable) grew up as this technology came about and developed. We experienced life without it, saw its birth, development, and growth, its début into the mainstream, and most of us embraced all of it as it happened. Most of us graduated high school and college before anything resembling the social media we know today entered into our lives.
So yes, we throw shade when we see people sitting at a table staring into their glowing crotches and we will do so when it suits us. Don’t try to reason with us. We know it’s a logical, albeit sad, sort of evolution driven by technology, but let us have our hate for a little while longer. It’s one of the few things we still have from the old days. Good old fashion judgement-faces, that if you took the time to look up and see, would burn a hole so efficiently through your head that you’d think we had an app for it (which by the way, dibs).
So fast-forwarding a bit, the children of our generation will have an immense amount of data about their parents available at their fingertips in ways that we could never have imagined. With some creative online sleuthing, it’s already pretty easy to trace a persons steps around just by looking at what’s available about them online. A status update here, a tweet there, a comment or a photo, these things are all just markers really; a bona fide trail of bread-crumbs of our lives available for anybody determined to follow them.
So I have to ask, will there be any surprises for them? Will there be any mystery? Yes and no. And it depends. I think.
Personally speaking, and forgive the flagrant narcissism for a moment, I hope I can hide away some of the “cool me” away for a bit somewhere. I don’t want them learning everything and getting a fully three-dimensional picture right off the bat. I kind of want them to think I’m a bit of a square and uncool; that the last album I bought was total crap (like the modern equivalent to Genesis or REO Speedwagon, both of whom were great in their own way) and I dressed unimaginably bad or something. I just…
I want them to find out something about me later in their lives that is so surprisingly badass, so disarmingly cool, so downright awesome, that they’ll wonder what happened along the way. Or more accurately, why it was so hard to see, why it was hidden.
I look at my parents with the utmost respect, I really do. They are flat-out amazing. The Earth isn’t made of sterner stuff than them. I don’t mind how that sounds. I’ve found shards and fragments and it’s amazing to find them because they are rare treasures. Sure they’ve shared some things on occasion but I will never find their secret awesomeness in a world so reliant on digital information. Most of their past is on plain paper and will decay, burn, rot, or just go missing. The memories they have with friends are in the minds of people and nowhere else. It isn’t backed up somewhere, it’s just fading away. And it kills me to know that. Just ask a kid what the Dewey Decimal System is and they’ll look at you like you just shit in their cereal.
You and I live in a time when nearly every action is documented in alarming detail with a device found in most people’s pocket. Next to the fucking lint. Next to the lint is something that can, and in all likelihood is, recording your history, your life, and making it available for the world to see, even if they aren’t looking for it. It’s nearly inescapable. There are so few mysteries about us left.
Or perhaps, with cloud-based computing on the rise, the data is actually less and less likely stored on anything in your possession after all. Just floating around in the digital ether of tomorrow, decaying, burning, rotting, missing, or just fading away.