In an era when technological advances are rampant and cultural change is constant, marveling at things like cell phones and computers has become cliché. We are so bombarded with new gadgets, services, and statistics that we come to view technological leaps as trivial. Perhaps the frequent, day-to-day release of new video players and mobile devices is trivial and fleeting, but there is something lasting and significant amid all the chaos. Something that grows each moment in size and scope–an unstoppable and immortal entity that has no equal: the Internet.
The Internet is more than a series of tubes–it is an abstract amalgamation of nearly all human information. It knows your name. It has pictures of you. It probably even has a picture of your mom, and it isn’t going to give it back. Companies like Google make it their business to collect, catalog, store, and disseminate all of the information out there on the net. How will this ever-growing data-beast affect the future of humanity? How will the existence of such a compendium affect history? Here’s a question that might hit closer to home: how will the Internet make the memory of your life different than the memory of people in past eras?
Well, for one, it will immortalize you, and that’s a mixed blessing. Your blog posts, Facebook profile, YouTube uploads, and digital photos will survive the test of time better than the parchments, books, and photographs of past generations. More importantly, your digital information won’t just pile up in back-rooms and basements where it can be forgotten or lost–it will all be easily and immediately searchable across time and across the world. When you pass on from this life, your digital footprint will persist on the internet, waiting for your curious great, great, great grandchild to do a cursory search and find out exactly what ol’ grandpa Lou did on his 21st birthday. Ok, enough about you, let’s look at the bigger picture.
How will the digital footprint of an entire generation affect our progeny? Imagine if you could access, journals, photographs, and personal videos of nearly every citizen of ancient Rome. Would we look upon the glory of the Roman Empire or Julius Caesar in the same light? Would historical truth be twisted or lost so easily as in the past? Will governments, cultures, philosophies, and languages find a more permanent root in our world with a digital foothold? The art of re-spinning history may be ended as our past hitches a ride with us forward on the information highway (cheesy, I know).
So there you have it: a new conversation piece at your next cocktail party. It is at least an interesting thought. You might even make a buck off of it—digitalfootprints.com, anyone? Or maybe Facebook will beat you to it by letting you friend your ancestors directly (just don’t poke them).
The question remains: in days yet to come will the Internet demystify, glorify, or vilify you?