I delved back into The Inevitable this week, if only temporarily. I’m sure by now, if you’ve been following, you will have noticed that I tend to jump from book to book more than I plow through one book at a time.
This dip into The Inevitable had me reading “Death in the Age of Digital Proliferation, and Other Considerations” by Christopher Sorrentino. This piece was really damn good. I’m sure I could have pulled several blog topics out of it. But I’m going to stick with one, which is our ‘existence’ online. I say ‘existence’ rather than presence because to me presence insinuates an invisibility and therefore a kind of creepiness. (Yes, I’m aware that one could say that invisibility & creepiness are perfect connotations when referring to being online. But do they really say anything, when they can be applied to everyone equally?)
I prefer existence because of the word ‘totality’ in its definition. What many people see of us online is in fact the totality of what they know of us. If you never mention your spouse online then to all the people you know online, you are single. That is your existence. The company Second Life understood that very early on & fed into that idea. They allowed you to remake yourself into any image you liked. In your ‘second life’, you could be a goat-headed ninja with bat wings. I wonder, now, as I write this, if Second Life is still in business. They never quite had the boom that they may have deserved. (Although, they did have a great interview with the real Kurt Vonnegut in their online world).
Perhaps their failure was in understanding this duality too early on in the game; being too far ahead of the curve. I do think that that had something to do with it. But more importantly it had a lot to do with what Venkatesh ‘Venkat’ Rao calls Manufactured Normalcy in this fantastic article Welcome To The Future Nauseous (which I found thanks to Warren Ellis). In a perfect world, you would go off and read that article before continuing further in mine. I’m realistic enough to know that that won’t happen, so I’ll try to quickly explain Manufactured Normalcy. (Please forgive the weakness of my explanation compared to Venkat’s wonderful blog).
Essentially the idea is that we are surrounded by a manufactured normalcy field. This isn’t a scientifically quantifiable field, it’s simply cultural/psychological one. This field maintains a sense of the present. Within this field iPhones are normal everyday things which are sometimes disappointing rather than the futuristic handheld supercomputers of yesterday’s imagination. To put it even more simply, the manufactured normalcy field protects us from the nauseous/confusing reality that we are living in the future. It provides a stasis which allows us to deal with the fact that science fiction of the past is all around. Without going too far into this and giving a further shitty definition, lets just say that this explanation is good enough for me to go back to talking about Second Life.
Second Life did not succeed because it was too strange; it was too futuristic; it was too ahead of its time so we all thought it was silly (and maybe scary). What we wanted was something more ‘normal’. Yes we wanted to recreate our existence but in smaller ways; more mundane ways. We didn’t want to be a centaur as much as we wanted people to think that we were models & rockstars. We wanted the smaller lies. That’s why Myspace & Facebook were successful. You can add all the people you didn’t like in high school & fill your feed with posts about how great your life is; about how much you love your life. You could find a guy with a camera, take off your clothes & tell everyone that you’re a model. You can be anything, within reason; anything believable.
The accumulation of all of these little lies, omissions & truths are your online existence. And it lives on after your gone. My dear friend, Melissa H. died almost two years ago & her Facebook page is still up. For people who didn’t know her in real life she’s still alive. We didn’t bury her Facebook existence. Sometimes the fact that it is still there is even cruel, like when her account is hacked and suddenly I see a post from her appearing in my feed. My heart jumps momentarily & then drops. But ultimately its quite comforting to know that all over the net, there are little pieces of her still alive; from her Live Journal to her Amazon shopping history.
Kaye Talise, a girl who I followed on twitter, tragically died last year. I didn’t know her outside of twitter but her death still stung me deeply. We talked a few times about movies & for all I know she really was an actress. All the little pieces that she revealed online made up a person that I really liked, someone I really cared for. Now, a few days over of a year later, her twitter account is still active. I still follow it. She still exists there. I can still go back and read her tweets & she can still make me laugh.
I don’t know where I’m going with this blog anymore. I’ve gotten emotional & I’m swimming in my skin.
In his piece, Sorrentino talks about the fragmented pieces that we leave behind online. From a sight called AOL Stalker he lists the search history of an individual masked on the site as user #672378. In the pages of listed searches from a period of about three months we can see a story emerge. The story of a pregnant girl with morning sickness who wants to buy furniture, wants to work out while pregnant & wants to get a government job. Then realizes that she will be raising the baby alone. She questions the morality of abortion and looks for a ring and a gown. She wants to know how to force a miscarriage & how to recover. It’s a sad story, all pieced together from internet searches.
I couldn’t help but wonder what my search history said. What story did it tell? How will I exist online after I die? I know now that as long as Google, Bing & Yahoo index the contents of my blogs, my name will appear next to Melissa & Kaye’s. That why I used their names. Call it an internet heaven or Valhalla, but in reality it’s no different than the immortality Shakespeare promised his lover in his sonnets, and no less beautiful of an idea.
The last 30 item in my google search history:
- TV Wall Mounts
- TV Risers
- Joan Didion
- Taco Bell Vegan?
- Evernote Journal
- Black Holes
- Happy Hollow
- Jailbreak Collective Little Giants
- Tel Aviv
- literary podcasts
- Annie Mac
- Apple pie with cheese
- grace kellyt
- he american reader
- french press
- adventure time
- gi joe toys 1980′s
- the winding sheet
- treats that make cats fart
- classic cocktail recipes
- plural form of hypothesis
- unsolved mysteries wiki
- hostess union busting
- case reopened zodiac
- zodiac radian theory