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6 Nov 2007 / Julie

a rant on online presence(s)- how to control it and what happens in 2030

I just spent the last two hours looking online for something I couldn’t find. And then I hit the jackpot. I didn’t find what I was looking for, but I did end up running across my old (wait for it…) Geocities website that I had forgotten LONG AGO. According to the File Manager, the last time I modified anything on there was 2004. Thursday, July 15th, 2004 to be exact. And there were files in there that hadn’t been uploaded since 2001. 2001!It was a modest site- serving as a portal to all things Julie (see screen shot here) which, in 2004 was the (gazillionth reincarnation of my) Blogger blog, a link to my posted art on Art Conspiracy, and my photos which were then on WebShots. For the design of it’s last incarnation, I remember looking at the code of other websites (as I always did), trying to learn what made it work so I could design things on my own, from scratch. I believe the last one I had borrowed from someone’s personal photo-a-day site. Still can’t design totally from scratch, but why reinvent the wheel (for my current purposes of web-ness) when the Borrow and Tweak method serves me just fine? One day, I’ll end up in a web class to satisfy my need to do things quicker, but for now, we’re good. Yay Open Source!

Running across that old site makes me think more about where exactly i exist online and how do I attempt to control it from here on back? Clearly, it would have been easier to have had guidelines on all this when I first started out online, but no one really knew where things would be today even 5 years ago… and I’m pretty sure I’ve had some sort of online presence ever since we got internet (dial up, wow) in the house (Dad figures it was around 1996 or 1997). 10 years is a lot of time to have accumulated accounts and traces of yourself. Wow… 10 years ago would have meant I started all this webness when i was 15. *whistles* Wow. Yeah, that sounds about right.

The internet for me, when I was 15, was for communication with friends- current and new. (Can someone say The Reason for Web2.0?) I remember having long chats on ICQ with my penpal from Germany (that relationship started on paper and moved to the web… like most of my penpals, actually… Andy from England started on paper when I was 11, now the only paper we exchange are bday and xmas cards- everything else is electronic) and well, frankly long conversations after hours with all my friends (how else were we to continue “talking” past curfew?). ;-)

Which brings me to another topic- what do archives look like in the future when everything is online and a lot is password protected? How are things like what happened in the movie Possession going to happen (tracing a relationship through letters) in the future when people are trying to learn about who we are now? (Ah, who are we kidding, i’m vain enough to admit I write to be immortal.) How are people of the future going to paint an accurate-enough picture of me when a large chunk of my past existed, unlinked, online? How the heck are we going to know how to trace folks who’s varying screen names might exist only in that person’s head? How are we going piece together a picture of the past when it’s 2030? What will the assumptions of our world be when the only artifacts we have are the physical things and all the electronic content has vanished?

Or worse- what happens if disaster strikes and all our known electronic records- this blog for example- disappears into thin air? Has anyone been keeping paper (or some other form of non-electronic records) of this web thing?? I haven’t. [This might be the reason my boyfriend, the Archivist gloats when he says, “When your world crumbles, I’ll still have my papers.”]

I hate to admit it, but he has a point! In a world where format changes and non-physical records are the norm, how do we keep track of things? What happens when the only things the future has to paint a picture of us with are the physical items? I’m reminded of a piece of paper (a print-out) i had on my bulletin board for a long time (and a long time ago)… I don’t know if it went in one of my many purges, but I can’t find it online (go figure). It was a picture of a guy in an orange hazardous waste suit… and there might have been something obscure in the photo… like a puppy or something… but someone had captioned the picture something along the lines of “how will the future see the past if this is all that is left of us?” I had saved it because it was funny… in a thought provoking sort of way… but it’s striking very close to home now. (if anyone knows what i’m talking about… and has a copy of it, can you send it to me? thanks! (yeah, this is why i try not to throw stuff out- i WILL eventually need it for some obscure reference 7 years later, hehe.))

What do we do? How do we trace ourselves in the past for our own uses, and how will the future do it? What happens if RandomGuy1 (i try not to use names, as to not jinx anyone) kicks the bucket tomorrow? What if RG1 only had an online (and password protected) address book? How will his survivors know who to contact? What happens to his (until he kicked it) very active blog… etc?

… I think if i keep this stream of consciousness going I’ll end up blurry-eyed, hungry, and still typing in about 6 hours… so i’m going to cut myself off here.

Any thoughts?

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