Since reading Sarah Wanenchak’s Cyborgology post on abandoned digital space, I’ve been thinking about the digital spaces I have forgotten or deliberately abandoned, that sit and collect dust, like my first blog on Diaryland. I started writing entries on Diaryland in 2002, and in 2006 I decided I needed a platform that was more professional. For a reason I can’t remember, I could not delete my Diaryland account back then, so I password-protected it.
As the name suggests, Diaryland was more a diary than a blog; only a handful of my friends read my writing, unedited and uncensored. But to be honest, I’ve never written anything here as raw or bold. In those years I didn’t think about (and wasn’t yet concerned about) topics of identity and persona and privacy, but when I realized my name could be Googled and the diary was searchable, I began to write less there and instead posted more polished blog entries on my MySpace profile, through which I had begun to craft a digital presence with a literary voice. In the fall of 2006, I shifted away from Diaryland so I could shape myself in public, and to get in the habit of writing for others.
Wanenchak writes that abandoned digital space is empty and static, “frozen at that last point at which something was done to it.” After reading her piece I decided to take a peek at Diaryland. Typing that site’s password was like inserting a vintage key into a rusty lock, and I was led to my last entry, dated October 6, 2006. Typical of my entries there, it is very long—much longer than anything I’ve written here. In this final post, which I did not know would be the final post, I wrote about juxtaposition and paradox in regard to my time in Thailand; about the financial and emotional instability of Twixters, a term used at that time to describe my age group stuck in between adolescence and adulthood; and my struggle to complete the last third of the book I was writing at the time.
In that manuscript, I really wanted to explore my relationship to technology, but that book was not supposed to be about technology, but about other things. I did not—I could not—see this then, and only realize this now as I return to a section of this final diary entry:
I’m struggling because technology is the major thread tying all of my chapters together, whether I’m here in the Bay Area, in Montreal, in Bangkok, or anywhere else, or whether I’m 17, 21, 24, or 27. At some points in my life, technology—which encompasses all kinds of things, from an iPod to a washing machine, or from a turntable to the English alphabet—has been a positive force in my life. In other parts, it has been negative. I keep going back and forth and am trying to figure out what my “stance” is, so to speak, but each experience makes the presence of technology more ambiguous as I write and recall more experiences from my past. And, looking at how the younger generations deal with the influx of these tools, as I keep observing in my classrooms more and more, I wonder if, in the long run, these advanced resources available to our culture are truly beneficial or not. I feel almost sorry for these kids because they were born into this Internet and tech age. This is the only kind of life and pace that they know, while I think we were and are the last generation conscious of a division and difference between two drastically distinct worlds, and have the ability to choose what we would like to adopt, and what we don’t.
That makes me cringe, and I thought to edit out some of it. But I’ve left it alone. A part of me is bothered by these abandoned digital spaces, floating about with detailed, unfiltered records of my past selves. Of my curiosity, of my naïveté, of my growth. But these frozen spaces, and this online diary in particular, are rich personal archives. It’s wonderful to be able to revisit a moment where I was on to something, and to catch a glimpse of my future interests.
Yet it’s trendy to forget: to (try to) erase one’s traces online, or to use apps that simulate the act of forgetting, like Snapchat, which allows you to control the lifespan of an image. I now wonder if it is unnatural to return to and remember such detailed moments of my past, and am also reminded of a Kernel piece on digital memory that describes how it is much easier today to remember than to forget—how we have GMail archives we can search to conjure up conversations we have forgotten, and Facebook Timeline to sift for dates and events and birthdays we wouldn’t normally recall.
Yet rereading these online entries isn’t any different from, say, sifting through my hardbound journals, right?
Ultimately, I like what Wanenchak says about these abandoned digital spaces: they are time capsules, acting as snapshots of our own past.
* * * * *
I got married this week, and I’ve decided to change my name. I signed up for a GMail account with my new name for when or if I decide to make the account switch, and also edited the name associated with my Twitter account to see what it looked like. But I wasn’t used to seeing my name written that way, so I changed it back, and I realize that not only is changing my name a big deal, but updating my name on my various digital profiles is a big step, too. Since those years on Diaryland and numerous blogs and social media sites later, I’ve shaped my self—my appearance, personality, voice, and whatever else that entails—and linked an evolving public identity to my name.
So I’ve thought about what digital spaces I’ll update with this name change, and which ones I may leave alone, and why I choose to make this distinction. I updated my name on Facebook—minus the reaction I had after updating my Twitter account—which makes me wonder about the identities maintained on each of these networks, the distinct spheres of my Internet, and the different levels of public.
Why does a name change make more sense on one digital space, but not another?
I’m not quite sure.
* * * * *
It’s interesting to think how updating a profile with my new name permits the present to continue flowing through it, while not updating my name on another profile instantly dates it: places it on a timeline, transforms it into a snapshot of a past moment. It will become, as Wanenchak writes, “a place in which the future has simply never happened.”
So what would my digital footprint look like in the future, with these black holes of data scattered on the Internet, as if I was forever single on some spaces, and yet married and aged in others?
Cheri Lucas Rowlands
Writer at Writing Through the Fog. Editor at Automattic.