Social Media Won’t Last Forever

A local priest was recently arrested for using his cell phone to take pictures of a woman changing in a Salvation Army thrift shop. I guess he didn’t know that porn was rampant on the internet and free for the taking. His court appearance was adjourned until January 20th so we won’t know what sex offender crime he will be charged with until then. Immediately after posting bail though, he closed all his online accounts such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. He didn’t have to do that since there was nothing immoral about what he had on those sites (and, they can still be seen in the Google Cache). What is sad though is that he had pictures of his church, parishioners, his family, cars and everything good about himself and others posted therein. All that is good about him is gone forever and what remains are the dark sided news articles detailing his deviant behavior. One “oops” erased a lifetime of “attaboys” but, such is our holier than thou, unforgiving and vengeful society. The Facebook comments about him from “good” people only wish for him to be shot, rot or burn.

It got me thinking though about our zeal to digitize photographs, posting them online and expecting that they are going to last forever; That might turn out to be wrong. If there are photos we wish to keep “forever,” we should consider creating a physical instance of them and print them out, then store them in “ye old fashioned” photo album. I still have my grandmother’s album, my mother’s and my own childhood albums stashed away in the attic for future generations to view. A friend of mine has a 20 year old son and they don’t have a single hard copy photo of him. They have thousands of digital photos stored here and there, though. Today’s online, high tech and cloud data storage system will most likely become tomorrow’s floppy disc. We are currently living in the digital dark ages and printing our photos is probably more secure over time than merely posting them.

Think about it. If websites such as Megaupload can be taken down, or if a social media website can go out of business such as Zurker, iMee, Posterous, or they can just fade away into obscurity such as Myspace, what could the future hold for other online storage and social sites where we post everything about our lives to? If terrorists wanted to hurt everyone in the world in one fell swoop, they’d take down Facebook. That actually wouldn’t be a bad thing . . .

What we know about generations before us we have gleamed from written records and old photographs. If a disaster were to strike our civilization or time simply wanes on and what is popular now becomes banal and trite in the future, how will historians and archaeologist learn about us if our digital footprint dissolves, is deleted, becomes demagnetized or is simply taken offline by our own doing, our failure to log in anymore, care-less relatives or, our favorite social media site where we store our pics simply ceases to exist?

We can still read 5000 year old hieroglyphs carved in stone. We can still decipher three thousand year old ink on papyrus. We still have books written in 1,000 year old ink and paper. Digital copies of our 100 year old celluloid recordings are quickly being duplicated because they are decaying at a rapid rate. The earlier magnetic tape recordings less than fifty years old are almost unintelligible because they too are decaying at a rapid rate. It seems our new technology does not have a relatively long shelf life.

Even if the medium still exists, the technology to read them will soon be obsolete and impossible to find. Consider the following medium for data storage: vinyl audio records, cassette tapes, 8 track tapes, card readers, punch cards, 5 and 1/4 inch floppy disks, 3 and 1/2 inch disks, zip drives, CD’s, DVD’s and now, the cloud. Heck, I have data which I stored on thumb drives and they are unreadable today after the old age of ten years.

See the pattern? Not only does the digital data decay rapidly but the hardware to read those formats is rapidly disappearing, too. Don’t expect the thousands of family photos you have stored on your phone, the cloud, your computer, on Facebook or on a disk will be there in 100, 50, 20 or even 5 years. As the priest in my opening paragraph taught us, your digital footprint can be wiped out overnight, or your cloud company can go out of business or taken down such as Megaupload. Social media websites or your working personal computer can be gone tomorrow taking your whole digital life with them.

There is a solution. Get yourself to one of those struggling scrap booking stores dotted across the country and find out how you can get your precious memories stored in a slightly more secure photo album. And don’t use home laser or inkjet printers as they too fade over time. Have your pictures printed from high quality printers using quality paper and ink.

Then, instead of just posting your picture to Facebook for your 800 closest friends to see, invite family and friends over for a meal, sit on the floor around the fireplace with a glass of wine and look through the photos together, sharing stories, making new memories and maybe taking more pictures.

Time weaves ribbons of memories to sweeten life when youth is through. Like memories, our technology and online presence can fade and disappear. How cool will it be for your great grandchildren to be rummaging through the attic and find a photo album of their ancestors – hopefully it won’t be a book filled with selfies. As I look through the old black and white photo album of my grandmother, I don’t see many pictures of her but, I do see the pictures of the many people whom she loved.

-Malcolm Kogut.

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