New Criticals

I mourn every link not archived by Wayback Machine.

I think, If this is all I have left of her, this nebulous internet presence, then time is eating her, slowly.

Links go dead. Email accounts get purged for inactivity. Lights go off and there is no one left to turn them back on.

I think, this will happen to me someday.

It’s happening to Jami.

My own internet presence sometimes eludes even me -- I forget passwords, get locked out of accounts, forget the answers to obscure security questions. To remain on the internet, to continue to inhabit these places, is a continuous performance that I sometimes fumble. Tumblr wants to delete my account for inactivity, an account I carefully, lovingly, curated as an art project many years ago and now lies dormant. The bulk of the artwork I’ve created over the last three years is web-based, and I won’t be alive forever to keep renewing these domains.

The powers that be know this. Google and other social networks have developed contingency plans for users on the occasions of their deaths - passwords can be relinquished to family members, accounts can be automatically closed. Plans can be made for some things, but others - they won’t even fade away. One day they will suddenly and irreparably disappear.

The things we leave behind on the internet are fragile and impermanent, and we are just beginning to notice. Far from the early-internet days of “Everything you put on the internet will be there forever,” we have come to see that, just like anything else, internet content is disposable, deletable, prone to corruption, and, legally, subject to omission. Google results, as in the case of revenge porn, can be removed. In 2009 Yahoo! removed GeoCities from the internet, taking with it almost two decades-worth of early internet history. (It should be mentioned that there are a number of people and organizations attempting to archive GeoCities websites, but some of these attempts amount to little more than screenshots of front pages. Still: there are heroes out there.)

We are not entitled to permanence. Life, relationships, the internet are all inherently impermanent, though every major internet service would try to convince us otherwise. I often think back to 1999, when I was thirteen years old, on AOL dialup. On the eve of the new millennium, AOL offered its users an internet time capsule to which we could contribute a short message. The capsule would be “opened” in the year 3000.  I don’t remember what I wrote, but even then, at the age of 13, I marveled at the absurdity that AOL would exist in a thousand years.

What the internet has given us is another way to express and record ourselves that is only slightly less perilous than a paper book in a wooden library. There is simply no way to ensure that we, us, ourselves will carry on indefinitely, though for the first time, we are beginning to believe that it’s possible, or at least we are tricking ourselves into this delusion. And what’s left over when we’re gone, do we want it? Do we want the Facebook profiles that our friends and family post to after our deaths? Not everyone can stay friends with a dead person forever. One day it would become an island, no connections, the sea around it so vast that no one would ever see or think about it again.

I wonder if Jami knew of her own internet trail, if she kept track of every account, every comment, every corner of the fandom web to which she published fic. Do I know her internet presence better than she did? Did she want this visibility, this fuzzy, enduring and endearing self-portrait?

What we have left of Jami, what she made for herself on the internet, isn’t Jami. It’s some amalgam of the things she wanted us to know of her and accept as canon. And what of me, Julianne Aguilar? What would someone learn about me from my internet presence? That I love late 90s PC games, and my cat, and about one of every twenty Tweets is even half clever? And if I don’t want my internet trail to reflect who I really am, am I ok with this weird, half-curated version of myself? What will they think of me in a hundred years, in a thousand? Even those individuals who have remained with us over the centuries have been whittled down to little more than myth. For every Socrates there is an Odysseus, little and less proof of existence. For every Chris McCandless, there is a Guardian21.

Maybe it’s better this way. They say history is written by the victors. Maybe, for the first time in our long history, us losers can write our own histories.