It’s time, time, time that you love…

You can’t buy an oubliette on Ebay.
I checked. You can buy some related Magic the Gathering cards, books, and CDs, but an actual place of forgetting is tough to come by.
I know you hadn’t heard from me in quite some time. You probably forgot about me, hoping I’d crawled into a convenient nearby hole and died, clutching a whiskey bottle in the sullen dark. That’s not what happened. You see, I’m on the internet, baby.

The internet tends not to forget things. Posts stick around. Pictures you put up might be available for your Great Grandchildren to peruse. Maybe…we’re not entirely sure.
Much has been said of late about how things we put up in our social network need to be examined, as they’ll haunt us for forever. People will be able to search for every comment we’ve ever made, every picture we’ve ever shared, and every “Like” we’ve ever clicked, for forever. I’m wondering which forever that is…the one that Geocities was part of? Or maybe the forever that Friendster is languishing in?
I’m not saying people shouldn’t be circumspect about what they post in their social networks online. I’ve always treated everything I post on the internet to be things said very publicly, and I always assume that people will find these things.
However, I also assume that if employers run across things such as this column, they’ll understand that this isn’t something I would write in the workplace. The vulgarity I employ here isn’t how my memos would appear. If they don’t understand that, that’s their problem, and I would likely prefer not to work for them. They should understand the stratification of our public faces. They are also humans, after all. Wait, are they hiring directors? We’ll assume not…so they’re humans.
What amuses me about the idea that everything will be available for forever is the strange idea of time that we have. The internet, as we now know it, has been around for less than 20 years. In its infancy, people posted whatever they liked to IRC rooms, and Usenet newsgroups willy-nilly. They never thought about the fact that people could find what they said at some later date.

People could go look for those things, right now. There are search tools for those newsgroups and stored IRC conversations. No one does, for two basic reasons.

First, no one really thinks to. The amount of digging required to find that crap is a lot more than a quick Google search. Our online presences tend to be pretty layered, so the major things that show up are how we conduct ourselves the majority of the time in the virtual realm. The things that float to the top are all people look at, unless they want to NOT like you. In that case, you’re screwed whether it’s on the internet or not.
Second, they’ve mostly lost relevance. The internet is not a static place. It changes, rapidly, and we change our habits with it. The search we use now is not the search we’ll use in the future. The Facebook of now is not the social network of fifteen years from now. I’m not saying that Facebook and Google will disappear, but they will change. Search will become contextualized more as we progress, and our social networking tools will update to better reflect who we want to contact and what we want to share with them.

The internet will be a different place. The old ways will be forgotten; dusty buckets of bits in the storage closet of the internet. That kid who called in sick, and posted the pic of himself dressed as a fairy at a party will be in there. So will the woman who forgot she had friended her boss and got fired for her comments about him. All that crap will be in there, mouldering. No one will care.
We’ll have all new scandals taking place, on the new Faceplace or whatever it is, where Jerry accidentally clicked the wrong button and sent pics of him making out with Jessica at the office Festivus party to his wife instead of his drinking buddies.
Watch what you post, folks. But don’t worry too much about forever. We’re too short sighted as humans to look back that far that often. Forever only catches up with us once, at the end. At that point, pics of us on the internet will be the least of our problems.

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~ by Benjamin Kenneally on October 20, 2010.

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