Chances are you've seen this video:
Chances are you've seen it, because chances are you are either somebody I've told about this page in real life, or that you came here because I linked to your blog. If I linked to your blog, you blog about the kind of stuff that would lend itself naturally to having seen it, and if I told you about it, you're a person I'd want to see this and whom I'd believe to be interested in this kind of stuff, and thus there's a chance you might've seen it. At this point, I've linked twice and told two people about it. Chances are I'll get one single view for this post within this year. Never say never, but more is improbable.
How you came across this post is of little consequence. You might have followed a link here, you might have Google'd me, you might have come across a reference to my blog in the Wayback Machine or whatever equivalent will exist in the nebulously defined future. You might be viewing a hardcopy, freshly printed or stumbled across in some dusty attic years after the timedate stamp. You might even have come across it during historical or archaeological studies in some form. That is not the point. The point is you found it. It has served its purpose.
Its purpose? To be read. By you. By anyone. Years ago, before the dawn of the internet, before the first monitor flickered on, before the first spark flew through the first vacuum tube, bringing the first computer to life - a harbinger of things to come, like a butterfly carried on the breeze before the storm of its own creation - an identity had to be maintained face-to-face. An identity only existed, in those early days, to the extent that you communicated it to others, and after you died, your identity lived on only in memory. Then came writing. Writing changed the paradigm of self in a way never before since the very idea of self was founded in the very first language. Now, an identity could be forged - carefully built up and maintained through letters and writings. Suddenly, the dead never quite died - Hammurabi lives, inasmuch as his Code can still be read. Without writing...
The census came. Names and information systematically recorded, ostensibly for the benefit of rulers of historians, but really, they benefitted the individual - for how else could the names of the people of ancient China - the most basic particle of identity, otherwise completely forgotten by now - have been preserved?
Even the census, however, was not enough to fully preserve the self. an identity can only exist so long as a personality can be assigned to it. Personality, in many - but not all - ways, is interchangable with identity. Autobiographies also came into being at some point, another way to preserve an identity after death brings the identitee into non-existence. Still, how many of the world's literate population ever wrote an autobiography, and how many had biographies written about them by others? For every 100 biographies on Hitler. a million souls are left without any biography at all.
Cometh the internet, the true topic of this post. In the beginning, the net was small - limited. Only available to students and faculty of a minute set of institutions of learning within the United States, the netizens of this early period forged their online identities as an extension of their normal ones, in digitized versions of everyday face-to-face interaction. Mailing lists and the basic forms behind what we now know as chats and forums, as well as the first few online games, led to an environment where a three-minute conversation with one's classmates regarding bacon could now be recalled perfectly a year later, and quoted. It was clear that this changed the rules of interaction, but not how. 1993 came, and with it the Eternal September.
The Eternal September influx led to a mass-scale proliferation of home pages. Originally, these were basically facts sheets about the netizens - short "My name is, born in, interested in, studying/working as" blurbs - and special-interests pages, such as "How to grow the perfect hortensia". These merged, leading to multiple-page sites with a great variety of content. But, for all the newfound freedom of publishing these pages offered, they were still ultimately static, with cumbersome formatting and coding making adding content a needless chore. Further, I suspect the idea that such a page wasn't "finished" once the article on hortensia growing was written was still strange. As a book or a newspaper doesn't change, I believe the original home pages may have been regarded as such, too.
Enter the Web 2.0.
The home page is basically dead. Some still exist, but the format is still cumbersome, despite new tools having been released, and it is also expensive. More and more, devoted web pages are the purview of groups, mainly of the commercial and/or informational types, and individuals.. what?
Well, the individuals have moved on- I guess MySpace should have been a warning sign. We moved on, to social networking pages, MMOs and the blogosphere. We now forge our identities in a new way. We now combine the best of writing and the socialization-based kind of identity-creation, leaving us with a living and ever-growing network of people which nevertheless allows for near-instant, effortless and flawless recall of whatever is desired, as well as the nice bonus it is to allow the use of sound, video and pictures in normal interaction - from smilies to the one embedded below.
We are not the same as we were. We are now digital creatures, co-existing within the spheres of the internet and real-life, forging permanent and lasting identities in a brave new world. The development hasn't stopped. The evolution doesn't end here. It may, in fact, still be accelerating. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Many parts of society have still to catch up to this. In particular, old forms of copy-control and intellectual property management are rendered not only obsolete, but near-impossible to enforce, a topic on which Shamus Young is much more eloquent than I.
As we prepare for the dawn of a new decade, one thing is clear:
We have to rethink some things.
If you read all that, you're a hero.