Thursday, June 10, 2010

Our Permanent Record

Earlier this week, I worked with the big guy as he dug into a class project. It was a family history project, in which he had to gather original documentation of a particular ancestor and then assemble a narrative of their life.

The ancestor we went with was his great-great grandmother, Ella Sandidge Furman. Ella was born in 1881, and was something of a rarity for women of her time. She was not just literate, but a college graduate, and was president of the Hollins University class of 1900. As my eldest son explored her life, he had access not just to records of her birth and her marriage, up to and including a tintype of her on her marriage day. He also had her diaries from between the ages of 14 and 16, and a small leatherbound book of daily remembrances she wrote to mark the birth of her daughter.

As my tweener boy pored over the daily writing of a young woman who would eventually give birth to his great-grandfather, he wondered what she would think if she knew that 125 years later, he would be sitting and reading them.

Which got me to much of what we write and produce now will convey across that span of time? Of the billions of text messages and tweets and Facebook status updates that shimmer and sparkle before our eyes now, how much of it will stick around? I think the answer may be that most of it will be lost, vanished in the vast chaos of the churning interwebs.

Or, worse yet, it won't be lost. It'll stick around. All of it. Every last tweet. Every last status update. Our great, great grandchildren will look back at us, and be bored witless. Sorting through the terabytes of data, our endless party pictures and gibbering over our latest consumer acquisition and lolspeak, they'll marvel at our inability to really say anything at all.