Will your digital footprint leave behind a legacy?

I remember riding my bicycle to my friend’s house. In the summer after school, we’d jump off his house’s roof into the pool. The sky was as blue as sapphire. For better or worse, with nary an LCD in sight, this moment began and ended with us.

Mix-tapes. I miss mix-tapes. I miss making them, sharing them, and listening to them from start to finish. I bet that if I were to find a box of them them today, they’d convey a lot about what who I was at the time.

I remember that love letters used to smell like perfume. Sadly, they are long lost, and I can’t remember what they said.

My, how times have changed.

Before the digital age a person’s legacy was roughly equal to their degree of fame or achievements. If they weren’t destined for the history books, they could leave behind their own stories, works in non-digital format, subject to wars, acts of God, and the relentless march of time. Great wisdom, love letters, journals or just modest family pictures of beloved grandparents were literally buried or hidden away in boxes, in dusty attics or cobwebbed basements, destined to be forgotten by time.

Today, the two billion of us who have access to the internet, are writing our legacies, one blog, tweet or status update at a time. Long after we’re gone, some digital version of what we publicly revealed about ourselves, will remain for posterity. Digital pictures, video, and words preserved in pristine condition by projects such as the Internet Archive, the non-profit digital library with the stated mission of “universal access to all knowledge, accessible to anyone”. Your great grand children will have a pretty good idea of the person you were by Googling you. Or they’d know exactly, thanks to services like Entrustet that can provide access to your ‘virtual’ belongings — online accounts and memberships, files, photos and videos stored on your computer or on an online storage site.

Every new generation brings with it new tools to write our legacies with. What do we leave behind? How will we be remembered? Will my life’s work, meanderings or 140 bursts of contextual genius be forgotten, when I’m done here, or will it affect someone, long after I’m gone? It’s an extraordinary thought.

It’s seems like ever since the beginning of time, we’ve all been contributing, using the media of the moment. Stone, paper, film; Facebook. It’s like we’re all selflessly adding to this rising heap of human knowledge and creative expression. Why? I’m not sure, but on the one hand, sometimes I think we’re a collective consciousness, concerned with evolving into a new, better version of ourselves. By contributing now, those that come after us, will benefit from our knowledge, and a part of us will continue on in some way. If you think about it that way, with this knowledge comes a great responsibility to contribute, and to contribute positively.

On the other hand, we might simply be reliving last night with a Facebook status, writing a blog to do some introspection, video calling to wish a friend on the other side of the world a happy birthday or sharing a thought because we’re simply and unabashedly human.



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