I have a lot of ideas for blog posts, some even written, but today I want to briefly touch upon something that is occupying my mind.
This weekend I went to the funeral for a five year old boy. He was the son of one of my best friends in school from sixth grade and Junior High and High School to a degree. We all are fucked up people in high school, me especially, so we had a bit of a falling out, as it happens.
From 1997 to 2004 I lost touch with everyone I had known for the most part. My life consisted mostly of commuting between work and school and where I lived (a stretch of up to 80 miles each direction), and working, 80 miles from school, 60 miles from home. I knew no one in any permanent way. Those I had known in high school and elsewhere had their own lives, and our lives were easier to exist isolated than incorporated, as the means of incorporation demanded active participation.
Then Facebook. Suddenly the lives were incorporated passively.
I picked up where I left off in 2004, and through happenstance, reunions, being in the same fields of work and otherwise, managed to reconnect with most of those I called friends at one time.
I watched this little boy grow up, saw the struggles he had from his disability, saw how amazing his parents were. I occasionally saw my friend outside of a news feed. I never met his wife.
Last Thursday I was in a meeting and opened Facebook on my phone and saw that this little boy had passed away two days prior. My heart stopped and for a second I couldn’t breathe. I tapped through to the profile that posted it, and was confronted by the fissure between two posts prior and this one. A smile and a tragedy.
I never met him, or his mom. I grew up with his dad. On Sunday I found myself among all my friends from high school and before trying to offer support, and trying to hold my emotions at bay. It’s hard to see the memories of a child’s life and not superimpose your own child on top of it. It’s an unfathomable level of despair I can’t imagine ever dealing with, nor do I ever want to.
We were there though. Among hundreds of others. Older than we were. But still supporting someone who was and is a friend.
I missed seven years of people because I had no means of finding them. Finding them over the last seven years lead me being there for a friend, however I could, in a time of the greatest need. I can fault Facebook for a lot, and scholars and critics can fault computer mediated communication for a lot, but I can never give enough credit to both for making that possible.
I often spoke about, did art about and studied the concept of the difference between my corporeal self, and that “self” which I made virtual. Through my work with Murmurs.com and other places, I maintained these distinctly. This was by necessity as it was impossible to be both at the same time do to the lack of pervasive connectivity and ubiquitous computing.
The complication of this duality lead me to putting more investment into the virtual “me” than the real. As these two concepts progressed, my identities merged. It was uncomfortable. It still is, and I still find myself shedding remnants of both.
Now the merger of the virtual and reified is inexorable. The virtual is reified, the real is virtualized.
I’m no longer separated from myself virtually in any meaningful way. I don’t desire anonymity, or choose to represent who I am in that space any differently than I am in reality. By entrusting those who I talk to with the same level authenticity and diminished artifice, we are acknowledging the act of communicating via computers is different, but as emotionally resonant as we want to make it.
But it is different. It’s compressed and without the fade of memory. In times of tragedy this makes it much more evident.
While this merging of the corporeal and virtual is there, it’ll never be full. The corporeal fades. Time, memory, age and intent all diminish through the years. We are never who we were. But the “me” of 2006 is still intact in various places, as is the “me” from 1998. Formatively, those “me” and the current one are still ASCII, binary, IP addresses and sites. I am different in reality, but time doesn’t matter in a space that has no entropy.
For me it’s embarrassment. For my friend it’s pain. A smile, and two days later the loss. A two day window of time that will always be there as it was on the day it occurred.
We will always fetishize the merger of real and virtual, of corporeal self and virtual. It’s exciting. Wetware, biometrics, embedded systems into our mastoid bone like in the Diamond Age.
But the real consequence is the loss of time, and the loss of the fade associated with it.
I don’t want to forget the post that shook me up so much last week. That made me really reevaluate my approaches to a lot of things in my life. I don’t want to forget the boy I never met. Or my friend and his wife who raised him with such joy and now face such a loss.
I don’t want to forget, but it’s often easier and less painful to. Forgetting is freedom. Forgetting lets us move forward unencumbered by the pain of memory.
But we can’t forget.
People will grow older, people will fade, and people will die. Time will march on. We will feel pain, but pain and memory will fade too if we let it.
But, that’s only true for one half of ourselves. For the other half - the virtual half - time has no meaning. We can delete it or choose to ignore it.
Without time, without its effect on the clarity of memory, memory itself is amplified. Good and bad pile up in an exponential manner.
I don’t fear growing older, but I do fear the amplification of the memory of what I had in my life as the good and the bad pile up like so many records in so many databases.
So many two day gaps between happiness and loss.