The internet is forever, but we are going to fade away anyway. That is a salient truth that we never think about. All the likes, all the emojis, all the comments on posts, all our images and content, will be out there even after we are gone, and that’s the whole point. It will be out of our control forevermore.
Our lives seem to be increasingly and inextricably connected to our online activity, so much so that sometimes our living and breathing selves seem almost subsumed by it. There is a drive that goes deep to our inner core to add content on sites, to post selfies and photos, and share what seems to be the essence of our lives.
Just about two years ago I wrote an article, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being on Social Media,” in which I noted our obsession with posting online and how empty it all seemed to be. Well, since then things haven’t gotten any better. People feel a greater need than ever before to put everything and anything out there for all the world to see.
It is said that the Internet is forever. This is both a warning and an incentive for the avid online poster. While people excitedly ready to post compromising photos of their wild spring break know that these shots can come back to haunt them, they do so anyway because the need to chronicle the moment outweighs the ramifications of a future when a prospective employer rejects their application because of the images.
As I write this, I think of my own desire to post things. I admit that I have posted selfies – usually vacation shots – but I have also posted things ranging from a beautiful sunset, a vintage automobile, or a plate of food in a restaurant. These incongruous images seem important at the time, so much so that I want to share them. I recall sending an image of a frying pan filled with paella from Spain with the words “Best paella ever” and reveling in the comments people made about it. I don’t know why, but I liked knowing that people knew where I was and what I was going to eat.
Sometimes when I am on a particular site the image of a deceased friend pops up as someone I may want to connect with. He has been dead for years, and it even says that his account has been deactivated, but his face still pops up. I feel a twinge inside me every time this happens and, while I mourn his passing, I also realize that my face may pop up that way one day long after I am gone.
I think about all he ever wrote and posted, and now it is “deactivated” even though his image remains. I imagine that this will continue to occur for years, and then after I am gone and all who knew him are gone, no one will know who he was or what he did. I guess this is the future we all face, an inevitable fading away.
A friend of mine who teaches technology classes has told me that he believes printed material will disappear by 2030 or maybe even sooner. There will be no more books, magazines, or newspapers. There will be no more manuals coming with appliances or electronics, no maps for travelers, no instructions as to how to put furniture together, and no Christmas cards in the mail or any mail for that matter. Everything we read or write will be digital and paper as we know it will vanish.
Now this same person has also recently told me that he recently reached 2,000 followers on one of his sites. He seemed extremely proud of this accomplishment, but I felt it was a dubious one at best. I asked him how many of those people he really knew, and his response was “maybe four or five of them.” Hmm.
If we are indeed moving into this paperless world, then our fading away is more likely and will come more quickly. People who are followers can only follow you if you post, hence the insatiable need to keep posting. Think about YouTube – 60 hours of content is uploaded every 60 seconds. With all that content you should know that most people view only the first minute or so of a video – they don’t watch the whole thing. With written posts the average view time goes down to a matter of seconds for most of the people clicking on them. Alas, the current attention span is a short one.
With so much free content from which to choose, there is no feeling of permanence even if the Internet is forever. Our work, our images, and our lives are out there and then passed over. I have no confidence that my work will remain online and available forever, and even if it is who will want to access it?
This is a truth that we have to face whether we are writers or just people who love to post. We are going to die; one day all the people we know are going to die – all our friends, loved ones, and followers. After that there is nothingness; it will be like we never existed.
I guess all people since the beginning of time have had to face this truth. People in caves put images on walls and all these years later we are still looking at them, but we know nothing about them personally. We don’t know whom they loved and hated or what their hopes and dreams were. People die, and after those they knew and loved die, they are forgotten, lost in the incessant march of time.
It seems that books will become artifacts, and like all the great works that were once housed in the famed library of Alexandria, they may too be lost someday. My hope is that all the books ever printed will be saved somehow, but not thrown into a museum where school children will gawk at them behind plexiglass and guides will say, “These are called books and that was the way people used to read.”
Books need to be accessible now and forever. There is a sense of permanence to the written, printed word. Something connects the dots from century to century when I sit down and read Dickens or Shakespeare, and that feeling is something tangible as the heft of the book in my hands.
So, go about your day and post your posts and images and selfies. Comment on links and like all the posts you want. If it makes you feel good, click away. Just keep in mind that one day we will all be gone, and none of this online stuff will matter anymore.
A future human race will be so superior that they will probably laugh at what we thought was advanced technology, snicker at how we were so self-absorbed as to take images of ourselves but rarely if ever print anything out. They will ponder on our tendency toward vanity and lack of regard for posterity. Perhaps then they will erase anything left of our world due to its insignificance – the ultimate fading away. Think about that as you drink you grande cappuccino and snap a selfie!