Ancient people built enormous temples and engaged in elaborate rituals to preserve their bodies and guide themselves into epic, rock-star-like afterlives. An untold amount of effort and sacrifice (har har, pun intended) went into this search for immortality.
Poor misguided Pharaohs and their ilk! They built gigantic structures, targetting immortality through physical force — but alas, the world is unstoppable, and even gargantuan piles of stone break down over time. But today, we have a new phenomenon… the Internet! Rather than a massive, solid structure that tries in vain to withstand the assault of all time, we have a self-healing, copying, duplicating mass of all human information. Immortality, rather than something to be striven for, is now almost unavoidable!
If I Google my name, I bring up relevant hits on the very first page. You might find a patent or paper that I contributed to. You might find conferences I’ve attended. You might find Metaplace or my LinkedIn profile. Or, eerily, you might find decade-old remnants of high school (when the Web was still just a babe), or who-knows-what from college. I can do my part to seed this cloud, but I can’t control what lasts. If I were to get hit by the proverbial bus tomorrow, some of these bits would survive. And I couldn’t choose which ones! It’s much like gambling — you can know how to count cards, you can even count cards correctly, and it’s still quite possible to lose. (Gee, I sure hope the college stuff is what gets lost…)
This doesn’t have to be the result of something as massive as shuffling off the mortal coil, of course. In the Internet age, it’s very difficult to retract things that have been said. The Wayback Machine, Google caches, RSS aggregators, and those godawful content-stealer blogs all snag bits and pieces of what we say and Web It ™ for periods varying from minutes to years. All kinds of stuff has been archived for posterity — even this blog!
It’s pretty widely agreed that the signal-to-noise ratio of the Internet is very, very low. Still, it’s reassuring to think that here is a medium where nothing shy of the annihilation of the planet’s surface can destroy the entire data store! (After all, DARPA commissioned the Internet’s design to withstand a nuclear war, and while events like the Mideast cable-cuts may have raised hell with traffic, the data has widely survived.) When some future archeologist unravels our binary codes, what legacy are we going to leave? Raph Koster’s Laughing Baby or Star Wars Kid? Project Gutenberg and its store of literature? Something that pushed the Internet into something new, like the surreal art at tiles.ice.org? Or will it be Sporn that the ages remember?
My money’s on the baby.