Have you ever known the almost nauseous feeling of mingled embarrassment and nostalgia that happens when you stumble across an old website or blog from your past?
I killed an old blog today: closed the coffin lid on it gently with mixed feelings. I’d completely forgotten about it for at least a couple of years until “old blogs” came up in a conversation and I thought, hmm, I might still have something on Wordpress. I did.
Looking back at your abandoned web properties is a unique way to encounter your past ugliness. Naive, artless writing packaged in lackluster design appeared to be my specialty back then. It’s much the same feeling as looking at a snapshot of yourself in your early teens. I skimmed it with the fascinated revulsion with which you’d look through a packet of photos of Christmas morning the year you got acne and braces.
Two thoughts warred in my head: look how bad I was and look how far I’ve come. Sure, these are not mutually exclusive — in fact they’re kinda part of each other — but they both feel different.
You gotta learn to focus on the latter, I know that, but I deleted the site anyway. I don’t need everyone else seeing my childhood horrors. There is something nice about seeing someone grow, but I’d rather my readers imagined I sprang into being fully-fledged, as the talented, groomed and debonair master-wordsmith that I am now. Who I’ll look back on in ten years and think was a goofball. Ah! the vicious cycle of duplicitous self-censorship.
I deleted it because I believe in “curating” (if I might use that word, over-common though it is) the parts of myself that appear before the world. When I was younger I had a fleeting belief that the truest mark of maturity was a complete lack of curation: becoming the same person in all situations, completely open to all. This, whilst a lofty, ultimately laudable ideal, is unrealistic in the extreme. We are all human (to varying degrees) and sometimes brutal honesty is not the most appropriate or even the noblest choice.
Another great hallmark of maturity which I’d overlooked was thinking before you speak.
This site has paralleled some significant changes in my own personal growth, and there’s one particular thing I’ve learned that stood in stark relief as I prepared my 2013 year in review post. The better I become at writing, the more I want to create writing that will last longer. This is a somewhat mawkish companion to the moves towards permanence I’ve made in my personal life.
I’m increasingly less interested in linkposts. In fact, if I’m honest, I was never really that interested in them, they were just easier than actually writing. They have their place, but I’ve never found them particularly enjoyable to look back on. Maybe I wasn’t finding the right links.
There’s a tough balance to strike here, because the more momentous you want your writing to be, the further away from the benefits of a regular blog you wander. I’ve been paralyzed by a kind of writers block the past few days, because it seemed to me that suddenly I wanted everything I wrote to be markedly better than the last. Of course this isn’t how it works: writing improves over time, not all at once when you wake up one day. That’s why looking back on your posts from ten years ago is an utter cringe, and looking at last week’s is only a vaguely critical boredom.
The web is a living history of humanity — a giant organism throbbing larger with every moment. The first generation to potentially have their entire lives recorded online has already been born.
How does it make you feel, that your children’s children will be able to look back on a comprehensive archive of so much of your life? Or would you, perhaps, rather leave some things out? Imagine you could look at your parents’ Facebook page from when they were your age. Would you? Would you be able to stop yourself?
When you’re dust, many centuries from now, your permanent digital eulogy will still be there to speak for you.
A regular eulogy, given by a friend, is generally fairly forgiving. Our memories remember the very good, not just the superficially alright, and you’d have to be a real pig to be disparaged at your own funeral. The digital legacy you’re leaving — your lasting remains that will lie quietly in dark corners of the exponentially growing Internet — will not be as forgiving a remembrance.
This is a new facet on the age-old thrust within mankind to be remembered. Time was you had to enslave a thousand indigenous people to carve your deeds in stone on the side of your monument. Now, this kind of memorialization is not only guaranteed to all, it’s almost inescapable.
The point here is emphatically not that everything you allow others to see has to be perfect. I know that’s not the path to improvement.
No tree grows perfect from the nut. Maybe it’s ok to lop off some of the uglier branches sometimes, though.