The Dangers of Digital Ephemera


I logged into Myspace recently. It had been years, but I still got my username and password on the first try. The site had completely changed, and although several of my photos were still there, I couldn’t find my old messages. In fact, I couldn’t even find the inbox link.

This was a sad event. Painful, in a nostalgic way. Not because I was expecting new messages from friends on a long forgotten social media site, but because I was on the hunt for old messages from my sister, who died six years ago. Previously I had searched Gmail for her various nicknames (including “sushi,” which brought up a ton of spam) but found nothing. I realized that we didn’t really communicate via email. Most of our letters back and forth were through Myspace. This was before Facebook got big, and besides, we both didn’t like Facebook that much.

When Myspace rebranded after losing the battle to the new generation of social media giants, they deleted all the old messages and posts. So those letters to and from my sister are gone forever. This is also true of my old love letters to my girlfriend. I didn’t bother to forward them from my college email account to Gmail.

The vast majority of people do not write letters anymore, nor do they print real photographs. Technology has made these things much easier, and we communicate more, but it comes with a hidden cost, or danger. All the important artifacts of our lives now exits as bits, hidden on servers owned by companies that are, in the big picture, tenuous. Myspace may have had a shorter shelf life than Facebook, but they both ultimately have a shelf life. Even the free service upon which I write this post, WordPress, may go under at some point.

Maybe free is the key word there. All of the services mentioned thus far are free, and when things are free, you can’t trust that they will be preserved. I have bit more faith in cloud storage, like Dropbox, since I actually pay for it. I guess one lesson I’ve learned from losing those Myspace messages is to back up your data. Even if I had to copy them as text, and even if they were stupid, silly, or banal, it would have been worth it.

Something doesn’t sit right with the transfer of our memories from physical materials to bits. I have a leather-bound book of photos, letters, and other ephemera from my grandfather. I open it up now and then and can actually touch the old, faded letters and hold the photos up to the light. I wonder what I will leave behind. A WordPress page with a “blog not found” message on it? A Facebook profile with the majority of friends deceased? We will have Facebook graveyards.

I think I’ll take my film camera out of its box, and start printing out some old emails.


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