I wrote last year on Adrienne LaFrance’s observation that the internet is, on the whole, a messaging system—not a library. Today, the pseudonymous Paradox Project’s piece “Print Your Blog” caught my eye for its riff on ephemerality and permanence:
I’ve been in the industry of software for about 10 years and I’ve met some wonderful people, discovered some amazing technologies, and watched the hard work, the passion, the blood, sweat, and tears of a new and incredible project evaporate into the air. Billion-dollar technologies have disappeared into the ether, leaving anyone who bought the illusion of digital permanency clutching the past as if they were trying to hold water in their hands.
The truth is that anything digital requires upkeep. Five years ago, Scott Hanselman made a plea to bloggers to own their own content, to host their own words. He wasn’t wrong, but hosting our own words costs money. We can’t just write and expect it to live on the internet forever. We either have to pay for the ability to extend the life of our words or we are at the mercy of some third party. …
The same goes for my old technology writings, my old online communities, everything I’ve built, recorded, written or shared. I have a nightmare that I die in a car accident, my hosting bill goes unpaid and everything I’ve ever done will go offline as I instantly vanish from the earth. …
If it’s something you want for a long time, don’t buy digital. Don’t let someone else control your media or memories. Print your blog. Buy paper books. Find your 50 best pictures from the past year and print them out. Gravitate toward things that last.
I think this is 100 percent correct, and many good examples of ephemerality are included that I didn’t excerpt here. The hundreds of pages of my grandfather’s memoirs that he wrote and assembled from old letters for our family not only give me a window into his life in the 1950s, but also help me concretely remember the man I grew up with but who died nearly twenty years ago.
My attempt to write in public, even when I don’t have much to say other than share a photo or excerpt something interesting I’ve read, is as vulnerable as WordPress is, ultimately. I believe in Matt Mullenweg and his vision for WordPress as a resilient and sustainable platform—but what happens to everything here after Matt and I are gone? If there’s any lasting value in the things I’m writing and sharing, past experience points to a physical version of at least the images and words (if not the video/audio) being as important as whatever survives on the internet. Ideally, everything survives. It would be a joy to me if my grandchildren or great grandchildren would be able to see and hear the same sights and sounds that I’m sharing from time to time here—but worst case, the words are enough to tell at least part of the story. How do we ensure something tangible might last for the future?
“Don’t let someone else control your media or memories. Print your blog. Buy paper books. Find your 50 best pictures from the past year and print them out.” Et cetera.