Winter Sunlight

Ephemera

I was thinking today about Internet and ephemera and archiving ... specifically, thinking about it in the context of my realname blogging. I want to start blogging more on my website. I used to use [personal profile] layla/laylalawlor for that, but whereas the purpose of this LJ/DW is just to hang out and chat with people, the purpose of my realname blog is at least partly to be noticed, or to do stuff careerwise, and with the general Internet population migrating away from LJ clones as a platform (and also away from blogging, but SHHHHHH) I figured I'd start doing more on Wordpress for the time being.

Anyway, one of the things that's been stopping me from writing Serious Author Posts is the idea of putting all that work and effort into writing a thing, when it stands a very real chance of being gone in five years due to yet another site upgrade or a Wordpress crash or migrating to yet another platform or god knows. I want to write stuff that I can archive and go find fifteen years from now ...

But then I got to thinking about how much is still around from fifteen years ago, let alone how often I have the urge to go looking through it, and realized the answer is "very little" and "almost never". Most of my online presence prior to when I got on LJ in 2006 is gone now. The Sequential Tart message boards, where I spent so much time in 2000-2004, were deleted awhile back. Some years ago I deleted the Trigun Yahoo group I used to run in the early 2000s, because it'd been dead for years, was getting overrun with spam and I was sick of dealing with it. (I don't think I've ever felt bad about that, either.) The Talkaboutcomics message boards, where I ran a Kismet board for awhile, got deleted after the site owner died. I suppose the archives of some of the mailing lists I was on in the '90s still exist, if they were hosted on a relatively stable site (I know the World-Building mailing list archives were still being saved as recently as a few years ago) but I don't care enough to go find out.

.... and that's the thing, really. I don't think I realized how little I mind all of that old stuff being gone, all my old message board posts and emails and so forth. For the most part, I just don't have any desire to go reread any of it. Conversations are things of the moment, and rereading what basically amounts to transcripts of old conversations is just something I don't find myself doing, like, ever. Actually useful web pages and blog posts are something a bit different, or my own posts about my projects and fiction (I save all the stuff I've ever written, too, because that's still interesting and useful to me). And sometimes it's fun to rediscover an old joke I haven't read in ten years, or stumble across an old comment exchange and go, "Oh, that's the first time I ever talked to so & so!" But mostly ... I dunno. Those old conversations are dry as dust to me now. I don't recognize myself in them, for the most part -- actually, no, it's worse than that; running across an old comment thread involving a younger me is mostly a squirm-inducing exercise in second-hand embarrassment.

Number of times I have reread my teenage diaries as an adult: never.

It seems like the general trend online at the present time is towards more ephemeral modes of communication: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and various Twitter-like chat things that operate via phone (I feel so terribly old saying that; I don't even know the names of the current hangout hotspots!). They're difficult or impossible to search through; once things drop off the current page, they're gone, for the most part. And I think a lot of us older folks feel a bit threatened by that. I know I do.

But actually, conversations are ephemeral by their nature. Conversations in real life certainly are. I think those of us who got on the Internet during a particular time in its history (mid-90s to mid-00s) ended up with a skewed sort of idea of the Internet as this thing that was constantly archiving us, freezing all our correspondence, taking continual snapshots of our social lives from day to day. And we thought we'd want to keep that stuff around forever, but ...

But I'm starting to think it's no coincidence that the generation that grew up steeped in a ubiquitous Internet are also the ones who view Internet text as a transitory thing. And I'm pretty sure they're right. Conversations are things of the moment. They're to participate in, not to reread in detail. There are some conversations that are worth saving (working out plot details, say, for me as a writer; some particular memory-archiving; stuff like that) but most online conversations aren't any more worth saving than you'd bother going around tape-recording every conversation you have with your friends just in case you want to listen to the tapes again someday. There might be a certain amount of nostalgia in it, but even when it's some sort of irreplaceable social experience like, say, rereading the words of a person who's now dead and gone, trying to recapture how you felt when you were with them back then, it's just kind of sad, more than positive. They wouldn't want you to be rereading all your old conversations with them! They'd want you to go out and have new conversations and find new things to be happy about.

I dunno if this is just me. Maybe other people go through their old LJ archives more than I do? I guess I've spent most of my life obsessively hoarding anything that had any sort of emotional value to me -- old letters, papers, diaries, emails -- only to realize, now that I'm approaching (help) middle age, that I almost never look through it and I don't think it would actually be a positive thing if I did spend a lot of time looking through it. For me I think it's more beneficial than not that most of my old online correspondence -- the old message boards, the archives of the email address I had in college, etc -- is all gone now. It's hard for me to throw it away myself, but I don't miss it once it's gone.

ETA: Talking about this with Orion, I think the paradigm shift here, for me, might be from thinking of the Internet as a thing that's full of stuff you keep, versus thinking of it as something you do.

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Hmmm, this is an interesting point, because I'm the same way in both respects - a packrat in wanting to save stuff, both IRL and online; but then I almost never look through any of it, and though I would be upset if I lost it, in actual practice it would affect my life very little.

I think some of it is just having that record - even if you never look back upon it, it's still, hmm, evidence of your existence? Signs that you existed at that point in time, doing that thing. It gives a certain sense of accomplishment, just to have garnered that much communication.

Also, with the internet in particular, there's confusion because some aspects of the internet are more permanent, and we want it to be. It's not just something you do, it's also a storage space - albeit a constantly shifting, changing storage space. Wikipedia is in part a record of our times, of the trends and subjects of now; but it's also a valuable research collection; while its format may change over time, and most of its past history is rarely needed, the content itself is more useful if it's more permanent; it would take a long time to rebuild if it was lost. Likewise Fanfic archives actually do serve as archives; they're repositories that are actually accessed, people do go looking through them, even years later, and it's frustrating when they do disappear. But not fan discussions, not really, because they are as you say a conversation, taking place in a specific moment, usually without much relevance outside of that.

There are some blogs that I've read a lot of the archives of, but they're mostly not the personal ones, but rather blogs dedicated to particular topics that I'm interested in reading about. And then they're not usually conversations, even if there are comments I rarely read them; it's the content itself I want.

(For me, I could actually lose most of my personal stuff and never notice past the initial pain of the loss. My writing is different, though, I keep multiple drafts of stories, plot outlines, etc and I do refer back to them; they have more value and use and it would impact me if I lost them.)
Oh yeah, I definitely recognize that not everything should be ephemeral -- a lot of it is archival-quality stuff (and I have a whole hard drive full of stuff I'd be devastated to lose, and do go back through regularly, writing and photos and whatnot). I've also felt the frustration of someone linking to a particularly awesome article or fic, and having it be gone forever.

But I'm also kind of relieved that the decision of whether or not to save a lot of my online presence was taken out of my hands and so it's gone now; it feels like just a bit less digital clutter for my slight hoarder tendencies to cling to, you know?

I get what you're saying about having a record. Honestly, if I still had my old emails from college, I probably would look at them occasionally ... but then again maybe not; I've saved nearly everything since I've had the Raven's Children email, which means I have emails going back to 2000 or so, but the number of times I've gone back to reread old emails except in the rare cases when I needed to find an old email for work purposes are effectively zero. I have good memories of a bunch of old online conversations (all the fun back and forth with you and Naye and Gnine when we were writing the Whaleverse stories!), but rereading them doesn't really recapture it; like I was saying on DW, it's like going back to your old hometown and driving by your old house only to realize someone else lives there now. The nostalgia is still there, and sometimes it's fun to wallow in it, but it's also a bit sad; it was the experience that was fun, for the most part, not the thing itself, and that experience was firmly rooted in 2004 or 2008 or whenever. I still have a bunch of saved chat logs, I'm pretty sure, but I can't see myself rereading my old chat logs (actually the idea of going back and rereading old chat logs is terribly sad; it makes me think of my grandmother, at the end of her life, obsessively poring over photos of her children and grandchildren when they were babies).
My perspective is that you're not necessarily saving that data for you; you could be saving it for someone else who does want it. Diaries are fascinating for genealogical purposes; old mailing lists could have fic posted there that isn't available anywhere else.

Then again, a) my long-term memory isn't particularly good and b) I'm a librarian and it comes with the territory. I do occasionally go back and re-read old lj posts so I can go 'oh yeah, I was doing that then.' Or remind myself of what college was like or whatever. I write journals when I travel and it's fun to open them every once in a while and remember what those places were like.
*nods* That does make sense, both the saving-for-future-posterity and using old emails/LJ posts for memory reference. And it's not that I don't think there's anything on the Internet worth saving/archiving (there's lots of stuff worth saving, and I've also experienced the frustration of finding a link to something interesting only to have it be dead!) but I also kinda feel like the move towards more ephemeral conversations is, perhaps, a better analogue for how conversations happen in real life.
I definitely reread my old online postings, and I'm glad a lot of it is still around. But I'm also the type who saves 57 versions of a story I've written, so I can go back and look at how the final result came together step by step. And I archive everything because I always want to look at it again at some point!
Yeah, I'm sort of a hoarder by nature, but it was startling for me to realize that I actually don't (usually) go back and look at that stuff again, even though I keep all of it. For the most part, once I've moved on it's largely lost to time, even if I still keep it around (and I DO keep literally everything I've ever written).

... that said, there's definitely more than one way of doing the Internet, and maybe in five or ten years, today's users of Internet ephemera will wish they could go back and see what they were up to on Twitter or Tumblr back then. I'm just a bit fascinated by how little I mind having so much of that old stuff gone, even though if you'd asked me beforehand, I would have said I wanted to keep it.
Hmm. I have the same problem to a certain extent. This is my fandom LJ. I have an author LJ, which I created to make updates that I suspected would bore the hell out of most of my fandom friends, but wanted to allow an easy way for those that wanted to be able to follow me there.

Then I created the website, and I spent more time posting my 'thinky thoughts' posts there than on this LJ, where I used to do that. In part, because as you said, it's supposed to be more about getting noticed and posting regularly to drive traffic to your website, but in part because there seemed to be a big migration away from LJ. Fandoms change, but I also think the nature of fandom is changing (a totally different topic about how tumblr and the sheer number of possible fandoms is making it hard for any fandom to survive long after canon is closed--unlike the old days of ST:TOS, or even the original BSG or X-Files... but I digress). Anyway, the end result is it feels like fewer people are on LJ, and fewer people are interested in meaty, meta discussions because the New! Shiny! is always there to tempt them away with gifs and memes. (I for one don't get how anyone holds a meaningful conversation on tumblr or makes friends there, but then again, it is probably not the platform for me, though I occasionally post there)

So I found myself posting more to my website, only ack. I've always had a tendency to over share online, mostly because of the false impression of the safety of being anonymous. But now I look back over things I've posted to the website, things I normally would have posted on this LJ, and I cringe. While I am not ashamed of the posts per se, they aren't necessarily the things I should be posting to the website because they don't reflect the person I want to be in that context. I haven't deleted posts, but I have taken them down from the website. I haven't f-locked this LJ, but I have gone back and meticulously f-locked any post that wasn't related to fandom or fiction I'd written. I created those layered boundaries between my various personas for a reason. Stupid of me to blur the lines.

The thing is, the internet is only ephemeral until you want it to be. People screencap things before you can erase them. Politicians can deny saying something all they want; someone can usually pop up with irrefutable proof that they did. There is no such thing as true anonymity, given the number of people willing to doxx you online.

It sounds like you're like me when I take that rare vacation: I spend so much time documenting the trip in pictures that sometimes I'm in danger of not actually experiencing the moment. :-) There's nothing wrong with taking pictures, but sometimes you just need to stare at the view.

I was chatting with a person the other day who, in her own words, used to write a 'stupidly popular blog'' about five years ago. She doesn't write it any more, and in the course of the conversation, mentioned that she wondered if it even still existed. There's that aspect, too--if you don't pay to maintain the website/LJ account, whatever, then what eventually happens to the material? I don't know. I haven't dropped anything yet. But I am seriously considering letting go of my DW account, and my other LJ account when their subscriptions run out.

Write the Serious Author Posts. Someone will read them now, and that's all that matters. If you write something really good, it will get shared, and reblogged, and spread everywhere--and take on a life of its own beyond your webpage. :-)
*nods*

Yeah, once upon a time I had this LJ for fandom stuff (and only fandom stuff!), and a real-name LJ that was supposed to be for real-life stuff. Then, as these things go, I ended up with nearly everyone I was interested in staying in touch with friending me on THIS LJ, and this ended up being the one where all the conversations happen. The other one has languished quietly into obscurity, while I've stayed pretty active on this one.

And yes to the over-sharing thing. Honestly, as well as simply having more people here to talk to, I think that's the other big reason why I've ended up posting so much more here, because it's pseudonymous. I'm in an enviable position with regards to my career repercussions from what I post online, since I'm self-employed and not in a career where it would matter, and I've never made much effort not to connect the two names -- but I still feel a lot less inhibited here, a lot more comfortable to just talk about whatever without worrying about whether I look professional or not. Or just being able to talk about my sex life or whatever without worrying about who was reading it. (I gotta say that the single thing which did more than anything else to kill my other LJ deader than dead was when I found out that MY HUSBAND'S GRANDMOTHER READ IT, and not only that, but she would email him fretting about my use of swear words. We both thought it was hilarious, but then my hands would hover in midtype thinking, "Grandma Betty is going to read this", and .... yeah.)

Write the Serious Author Posts. Someone will read them now, and that's all that matters. If you write something really good, it will get shared, and reblogged, and spread everywhere--and take on a life of its own beyond your webpage. :-)

Excellent advice, and I'm planning to follow it. :) I really want to do more communicating online, and less hermiting -- as long as I can manage not to let it interfere TOO much with what I'm actually supposed to be doing, i.e. the actual writing itself!
I really want to do more communicating online, and less hermiting -- as long as I can manage not to let it interfere TOO much with what I'm actually supposed to be doing, i.e. the actual writing itself!

It's hard to find the balance sometimes. I'll start all these great conversations when I'm bored (or feeling lonely) at work--I only have a few minutes to kill while waiting for the next client, so I launch some sort of thinky-thought into the air, and as the comments trickle in during the afternoon, it keeps me occupied mentally. Only then I come home to 100+ emails in the inbox and feel compelled to answer them, and the next thing I know, I've blown my writing time on chit-chat, and liking stupid memes on Facebook or Tumblr.

So, yeah, struggling to find the balance. I think regular posting to your website is important, but consider it a message in a bottle and move on. Set time limits on social media, especially if you want to put out material on a regular basis. Readers are like stray cats: if you feed them, they will come. Stop putting out food on a predictable basis, though, and they'll wander off somewhere else. ;-)
That's an interesting take. I hadn't thought about the Internet as conversations so much as letters—and I do keep old letters. I have letters from my husband, then my fiancé, from 1990. I hardly ever reread them, but I have occasionally, and I like knowing that I could.

Before LJ, and then overlapping a bit I think with me starting on LJ, I participated on the old SciFi bulletin boards talking about Stargate SG-1, and then they locked me out of my account, and I couldn't get back in. I panicked, I was upset—and then I realized that I didn't need a new account. I didn't need to search for the old things I'd said. I have a couple of friends from those boards, and that's all I need.

I do like being able to find some of my old posts, because I find I'm sometimes surprised by how I remember things versus how I thought of them at the time.

Also, as I get older and the memory starts to go (yes! already!), I search my personal email when I want to remember when something happened. When did so-and-so break her arm? I must have mentioned it repeatedly in my email. search Ah, yes: that's the date! I tell my mom that I keep all my emails so I can write my memoirs.
*nods* Yeah, I had always thought of email, and online communication generally, as being more akin to letters. And I think there was a time in Internet history when it actually was, but it's really gotten to be more like chatting over lunch or something. I definitely don't want to imply that there's NOTHING on the Internet worth saving, or no value at all in going back through older correspondence -- because I've also had my memory jogged by old LJ posts about things I'd completely forgotten, or experienced the sadness of coming across an interesting-looking link only to find it dead. Still, it was kind of startling, and a mental paradigm shift, to realize that not only is most of my pre-2006 online presence completely gone now (that's 10+ years!) but I truly don't miss it; as nice as it might be to have the option of rummaging through my old 1996 emails, say, I don't feel like there's something important missing from my life because I don't have them.

... that said, there are many different ways of doing the Internet, and I know my way is not the way that works for everyone!

Edited at 2015-02-24 03:40 am (UTC)