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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
The Internet of Ephemera 
1st-Jul-2017 03:54 pm
Every eight months or so, I find myself thinking that I really ought to try breathing life back into this LJ. But then I realize I don't have anything in particular that I want to say. And besides, I gradually began moving my social media activities to other platforms, i.e. Twitter in 2007, Facebook in 2009.

It’s not the same, though.

You see, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr, the last of which (God help me) crashes my browser with a trillion animated GIFs, are like scrapbooks, telegrams, and short commentary. LJ, on the other hand, is basically a longform prose blogging platform with additional social media functionality layered on top—it is, as its name implies, for journaling—and it made it easy for the everyday person to blog.

More crucially still, it spearheaded a brief cultural moment, circa the early to mid-2000s and now over, wherein it became normal for everyday, ordinary people to write publicly about the day-to-day minutiae of their lives. And oh my! did they ever, in fabulous detail…and in well-organized paragraphs composed of complete sentences.

On LJ, there are harrowing tales of suicide attempts and the death of a woman from Stage IV cancer documented in real time. I was never acquainted with either of these women whose LJs I’ve just linked, and they are not Wikipedia’s definition of “notable,” but their stories are valuable documentary evidence of ordinary lives. And crucially, they remain out there—for public consumption.

These days, parents and teachers warn children not to post embarrassing personal material on the internet because “the internet is forever,” and those ill-advised nude photos you posted at age eighteen may haunt you when you decide to run for president at fifty-five. It’s good advice, of course. It’s just too bad that it’s all too often untrue.

Stuff disappears. For example, I used to have a personal webpage during my high school/college years. Some of you on LJ may even remember it. But it’s gone now, gone along with the server that hosted it, and the onetime university “Lecturer in Publishing and Digital Media” assures you that the bulk of its content is no longer available anywhere. Presume that I no longer even have personal file backups of that old website, and it truly is gone forever. Much of the internet has been flushed permanently down the memory hole in this and similar ways.

Good riddance, you say? Well, I suppose that depends on how you define value in the first place. Sit in on as many academic presentations as I have, though, and you’d be amazed how much ends up proving valuable to someone, somehow.

As a social researcher whose curiosity never switches off, my concerns—and occasionally renewed personal interest in LJ—are therefore twofold:

1) Its status as a publicly accessible archive of detailed informal histories.

2) My concern that social media platform both shapes and constrains the form in which online documentary evidence of the present takes, and my existential worry that what has largely replaced LJ is, by general comparison, superficial and impoverished.

The larger issues are complicated, tangled up in questions of privacy, intellectual property, political economy, and so forth. But at least when it comes to the ephemeral traces that I personally leave behind, increasingly I have come to conclude that it is important to both proactively preserve them and, going forward, to think carefully about how, and where, I go about producing new material.
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