I opened my Facebook account in May 2006. It was not yet available to the masses, but at the time, many college students were able to create an account. The social media powerhouse then was My Space. I was active there briefly, active enough to not use Facebook at all until my first post in April 2008. I was again Facebook silent until October that year. With the exception of a couple of brief hiatuses, I have maintained a presence on Facebook ever since.
However, my Internet presence predates the World Wide Web (before the “www” prefix was part of any URL). I was active “online” in the early 80s with my Commodore 64 connected to a telephone line via a VICMODEM that transferred data at a screaming 1,200 bits per second (Bps) – today data transmission is measured in thousands of bps (Mbps) or even millions. A recent speed test on my home internet just returned a download speed of about 300 Mbps – that is 300,000,000 bits per second, versus 1,200 in the early 80s. Technology is a wondrous thing.
But even at those, by today’s standards, unacceptably slow speeds, the early Internet brought the world into our homes. I had an account with Compuserve which allowed me to communicate through my modem with other computers. Often they were campus mainframes, but more often it was one of a few “Bulletin Board Services” (BBS). Those virtual bulletin boards, I believe, formed the foundation for what we call “social networking” today. By the time closed networks like America On Line (AOL), the larger World Wide Web and browsers came around, the future was becoming clear. And it would be vast.
Fast forward to today, midway through 2019. I still have some old ties to those early days, though some time ago I dissolved one of my first. I had an early email account through Earthlink that still carried “.ix” in the suffix. That now obsolete designation stood for “Internet Exchange.” It was a designation that meant “email” before email was called email. It was costing me $10 per month to keep it and for simple nostalgia, it was not worth it. My associations with what would become a juggernaut, a little start-up in Mountain View, CA called “Google,” predates most everything since the fall of AOL. My gmail and Blogger accounts are the oldest, but YouTube is likely not far behind. In fact, both my Blogger and YouTube accounts might predate Google’s acquisition of them.
So what? Nice little slice of recent history, but so what? My journalism and English professors would be cringing – “You took how long to get to the point?” Yes, well… call it artistic liberty. The point of all this is not so much our history, but rather, my history, as preserved in these digital archives. For the past 10-plus years, much of what I’ve been up to, what I have done, things I have seen through pictures and videos, and, although some might see it as a lost art, my writing about what it all means, is all still there. Facebook, through its “Memories” tool has capitalized on this fascination with retrospection. Never before have I been able to garner such a clear picture of where I was one, two, five, eight, etc. up to a little more than 10 years ago.
Of course what is there, what has been preserved, is not all of the reality. It is the reality I have chosen to archive. But even with the actual digital record only reflecting what I want it to, the detail that is there is so fine that I can still almost feel what I was feeling then. Again, when these are good things, that is good, but even the bad memories I chose not to archive, or the ones that even at some later date I choose to delete, are triggered by the detail of what is there.
For example, I was married to the mother of my children on Feb. 7th, 1987. I was there, I remember when it was, where it was and much about it. I even have a photo album and a VHS video of it around somewhere. However, I don’t remember it every time Feb. 7th rolls around. There is no reason to relive it, nothing anywhere outside my own thoughts triggers that memory. The same cannot be said of July 15th, 2012 – the date of my second wedding. That was a disaster and among the dumbest things I’ve ever done. It, like so much else documented in my Facebook archives, remains as a very prominent part of my digital record – even though I have gone through great pains to eliminate key elements of it. Deleting it all is not so easy, however. Real friends and family gathered in numbers that had never happened before and probably will never happen again. The pictures and memories of the party (which is what I prefer to call that wedding and reception) are important to me. I can and did delete her, but the occasion remains. And it will come back next year, the year after that and as long as this digital archive survives. Indeed, the memories will outlive me.
Like so much else that has to do with “progress,” there is both good and bad. While I learned quite a lot from that fiasco seven years ago, I can internalize those lessons without rehashing them every year. Some things were meant to be forgotten, others benefit from the permanence of digital storage. The last three years are filled with wonderful memories with my now ex-girlfriend. There is nothing about her or them that in anyway “taints” those memories. There were absolutely genuinely good times I do not want to forget. I looked back on today’s with fondness, disappointed, perhaps, that things couldn’t be different, but grateful for the time we had.
Finally, the line between virtual reality and real reality is further blurred by how we remember. Like the public portrayal of ourselves in the present, the archival portrayal is not entirely real either. It is partially so, but it doesn’t ever tell the whole story. But that doesn’t mean no one knows what that story is. When I access my archives – even though I leave things out, I know and remember what those things are. I’d venture to guess that I am not in the minority – I’d bet that most people have that awareness. But it is wholly personal – no one else can really know the real story – in real time or by looking to the past. That burden and/or privilege is personal; it is ours and ours alone.
Coming full circle, the only real differences between what is recorded reality (history) and real reality (news) before and after the age of information are quantity and access. The sheer volume of information flooding our senses combined with the availability of access to anyone has changed the game. And it is a game. And games have winners and loser. More days than not, I am choosing not to play. Because better than a notch in my win column is peace. Peace is the ultimate victory. When I reflect back on this day a year from now, whatever I might be going through then, I will know and remember the peace I have today.