On Death and Life

Via David Weinberger’s site JoHo the BlogI found this interesting article on the personal site of Hanan Cohen.

“Come back with me to 1999, in the height of the dot.com boom, when we thought that everything on the internet was possible, when optimism reigned.

On this year, in order to demonstrate the strength of his software, Frontier, Dave Winer created a website called MailToTheFuture.com.”

Going back to my post of the other day where I talked about our trip to Prague, before we left I used Dave’s MailToTheFuture tool to set up an email for my buddies back at work.  I timed it such that Cindy and I would be in Prague drinking a cold Pilsner and my email gloating about that fact would be sent to my coworkers back in the office.  They really seemed to enjoy it 🙂  Dave comes up with some of the coolest weird stuff.

“We think that we will live forever. We think that the files we have stored on machines powered by electricity will also live forever. Our files have no other purpose than to be online. We think that if our files are not available to the web, they are dead.

In a way, thinking about the death of our files is like thinking about our own death. “

I think it is true not only of people on the net but also of people in everyday life.  I see it on my drive to and from work each day.  People drive as if they will live forever.  During the days and weeks immediately following Cindy’s death I was frequently struck at how strange it was that everyone around me could go on living life as if they would live forever now that I knew that life is just a fleeting thing that can go away in an instant.  I wanted to run up to people and shout at them “DON’T YOU REALIZE THAT YOU COULD BE GONE IN AN INSTANT!?!?!?!”.  I wanted to stop them in their cars and scream “HOW CAN YOU DRIVE LIKE THAT WHEN A SIMPLE MISTAKE COULD TAKE THE LIFE OF A WIFE AND MOTHER!?!?!?”

I always realized the fragile nature of the data on the Internet.  I started playing on the Web back when Mosaic was still way cool and Netscape was still brand new.  I created basic HTML using the text editor from the Cobol compiler we were using at the time.  I saw many a site appear one day only to be gone the next.  I knew that the free sites I set up around the web would disappear some day. 

Here’s a post I made back in those days that hasn’t disappeared yet.  It was about the birth of my first daughter as it related to a song that was being discussed.  Ironically I played that same song at my wife’s Gathering after she died.

However I didn’t really realize the fragile nature of life, and the effects that can have on people.  When the girls were babies I had a sense that they were fragile and could leave us at any moment.  Back then I would do that thing that all parents must do, you wake up in the middle of the night and wonder if they are ok.  You sit in bed and can’t get back to sleep.  Finally you have to get up and go in the nursery and make sure they are still breathing, that everything is ok.  But after we had our second child you realize that they don’t break that easily and that they are resilient and can fall down and get back up again.  It wasn’t until Cindy died that I truly understood the fragile nature of life, and the impact of losing that life.

So for me losing a website isn’t a big deal.  Losing scans of old photographs that might not be replaceable isn’t life altering.  Losing important thoughts and feelings translated into words on a screen won’t change the existence of those thoughts and feelings in my mind or the minds of those who may have read them.

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