Daily, we each write our autobiography.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat: These are the places we gather to communicate our tastes and opinions and record our lives to share with our friends and family or the world. It is fascinating (and sometimes appalling), wandering in and out of these personal museums and exploring the versions of themselves people choose to present to the world. Curation of the self has become a necessary skill.
What often gets lost in the noise and crush of information is that each social media account is a primary historical and anthropological source.
Many readers of a certain age have family photos going back only a generation or two. Perhaps they also have a few letters and heirlooms. By contrast, when most of us depart this earth, we will have left behind an immense, readily accessible and searchable archive of personal information. These documents will form the foundation of our families’ histories.
We are each the first of our name.
Fifty years from now when your descendants have to do school projects on their family history, what will they find when they look at your social media history? Will they be proud? Will they be embarrassed? Will it affect how their friends and acquaintances see them?
The addition of Facebook commenting to many topical websites over the past several years has disabused us of the notion that obnoxious internet commenters were all anonymously trolling. People are posting horrifying, abusive material under their real names. Others make less egregious errors that perhaps deserve chastisement, but, instead of receiving a telling-off, the offenders end up being crushed by mobs of “do-gooders” bent on their destruction. Jon Ronson’s book, So I’ve Been Publicly Shamed, discusses the fallout from these mob attacks: people’s relationships, careers and mental health have been severely damaged. All the righteous indignation feels good in the moment, but it often looks different in hindsight.
That the internet is part of society (not some virtual Wild West) still seems not to have sunk in for many of us. The micro-moments in which we now live and communicate mask the arc of history, but it is even more imperative now than ever that we understand how the world changes and stays the same. We must truly consider what is the right thing to do and muster the courage to take that path (or at least get out of the way of those who take up the mantle), because in the near future there will be no more hiding. Each of us will be judged by history.