Friday, May 18, 2012

"Twelve megabytes of RAM, five hundred megabyte hard drive, with built-in spreadsheet capabilities and a modem that transmits at over 28,000 bps!" Chandler Bing,
Episode "The One With The List", first airdate November 16, 1995. Those specs were good at the time.
It's stunning how much things on a computer have replaced real things. I'm not used to it despite how much I use computers, and I'm not sure I should be, because it's weird!

Two recent discussions with friends both reminded me of that by circuitous routes. One about mementoes of exes, one about the cultural impact of the old TV show Friends. People got to talking about when and if and how to save stuff, and independently about the show, and that reminded me of one episode of the show about that topic: the girls all happened to be single during a Valentine's Day and were depressed about it, so they decided it would be cathartic to ritualistically burn presents from exes. Hilarity ensued, of course.

That got me thinking that I should do something like that myself: cull my heap of souvenirs. I wouldn't get rid of everything, and I wouldn't do anything as farcical as a fire, just take stuff to the trash. I'm in a serious long-term relationship right now (so serious, by the way, that we're buying a house together! We feel better about it now than we did here), some such mementoes might actually be incriminating and several more would simply be embarrassing, and I just don't feel like I need most of it any more; I've stumbled on this stuff by accident now and then but it's been years since I sought it out for some reason. I should throw some of it out and put the rest in one organized place.

But the thing is, A lot of this stuff is on a computer - old e-mails, jpegs, text documents, etc. I have lots of other stuff on computers too, and storing stuff on my computer is actually the more discreet option in some living situations, so why not? - and when and if I get around to this culling it wouldn't feel right with computer files.

Even if every bit of it was in meatspace I wouldn't burn anything like on the TV show, of course, that would be stupid. I'd sort it carefully and throw it away, maybe in a trash can a few blocks from my apartment and/or after tearing stuff up first if I think I need to be really careful, but I wouldn't bother with anything more than that.

But on a computer I can't do that. Moving files around a computer is moving files around a computer. There's no purifying ritual to it, no break from routine, nothing different from sorting treasured mementoes of my first love and making a new playlist. And when I sort meatspace mementoes I'll do it at home and have until I walk away from the dumpster to reconsider, but on my computer I better be really, really sure about everything, because the "empty recycle bin" button is just another button.

As for the stuff I'd like to organize and keep long-term, what are memories, anyway? I'll be able to look at a handmade card and reminisce for as long as I'm capable of holding and reading a piece of paper. A computer file, though, who knows? It's hard to lose a box full of stuff, but some of these files are already deep in sub-sub-folders, and if I happen to get another computer before I finally do this culling, it'll be worse. What if there are backwards compatibility issues? What if I screw up my computer the next time I upgrade its video card? I know from experience that floppy discs deteriorate; how long does a hard drive even last?

And while I'm at it, what are we? No sane person is so materialistic to say that you are what you own, of course, but other two leading answers seem to be "you are a soul" (and I'm not religious) and "you are the impact you make on the world." That's usually enough of an answer for me - leave the world a better place than you found it, that sort of thing - but so much of my stuff is digital that what, exactly, am I leaving to my heirs, biological or otherwise? Doing puzzles or playing board games with meatspace friends is easier than playing computer games with them. Pictures on a hard drive and books on a Nook make poor heirlooms.

Well, that's so meandering and mystical that it's hard to believe I'm not stoned at the moment. Realistically, I own plenty of meatspace stuff, and I've almost never felt as maudlin as this sounds and certainly don't right now. I just think it's weird how much of myself I'd put into this digital world. Not just in the sense that I have a blog, but in all the other ways I didn't think about until I had been using them for years.

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