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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Stickiness of Digital Memory

In my last blog I wrote about my ten-year-old son. I don’t think anything I said was too embarassing (he did not like my rating of his baseball skills as “pretty good, but not great” and perhaps I shouldn’t have let him read that). But as this article in the Times  makes clear, the question is not whether it was OK for me to put a tiny bit of his life on the web, but rather that now it is there forever. My wife is on Facebook, which has led to her to make some nice connection — turns out an elementary school pal of hers lives five minutes from us, we have common interests, and have become friends. But while I meet with people I knew in school once every few years at an event, I really don’t have a desire to knit back to the past. At key moments in life — like leaving high school to college, or going away over the summer, I was aware of a split with friends, and we sometimes wrote, remembered each other’s addresses and phone numbers, were pleased to bump into each other. But life was also about moving on — forming new friendships — starting over. It seems my children will not have that experience. They are digitally embedded in not only their past, but whatever fragments of it others (such as their dad-who-blogs, their mom-who-facebooks) have shown the world.

This sticky past is disconcerting to me — perhaps it won’t be to them. Maybe they will be so inured to exposure that they will ignore the fact that some total stranger knows bits about their childhood. That is on a personal level — but what about historians? Should there be some massive computer that aggregates this digital scrapbook of every life, stores it so it cannot be read for a century, but then makes these tastes of life in 2010 available to future scholars? It is as if we are living in a giant Candace Fleming book — an endless scrapbook. After enough time has passed, should a future Candace be able to craft a portrait, a kind of digital mural, out of the photos, videos, anecdotes we share (or adults share for their children)?

Thinking back to my blog — email has always been the impersonal personal — simultaneously intimate and abstract. And of course so is this blog. To me I am typing facing a screen. But once I publish I am speaking to any of you who wish to read. Perhaps with blogging, like email and Facebook we as a society have not entirely figured out the rules, the balance of personal and social, the space of what is allowed and not allowed (and I am not talking about creepy lurkers and warning kids about who they should meet online). I mean just what do we share and what not — what would be OK said between two people, kept alive as long as they recall it, and what should go into the infinitely sticky digital web, there to live as long as servers run.


  1. Yesterday, I listened to a wonderful digital lecture at the NYPL. The main speaker was Dana Boyd who is a researcher of this exact area of thought. The other speakers were librarians and educators. It was the most articulate discussion of this field that I have experienced to date. The topic of permance was featured in Dr. Boyd’s presentation.
    I suggest that everyone reading this blog check out that lecture.
    I am very concerned with keeping the various aspects of my life ( professional, personal ) discrete but I am very grateful to people who share their lives. My summer reading project is the Jefferson Adams letters – good example of how people grow intellectually.
    Barry Joseph of Global Kids and Dana Boyd are pretty young by my standards but they both commented on the fact that they grow up online and are often asounded by how
    many light years ahead of them the kids are in this business. Apparantly, younger people do not even think about the internet and its useage in the same way that way do.
    Our fears may be totally unrealistic.
    Technology and history – that’s really interesting .

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    Thanks for the suggestion — I know Barry a bit but not Dana, I’ll look for the lecture.