Internet Life: When You Leave Us, Will We Know It?

Someone I met on the Internet went M.I.A. He recently turned up again, to explain he had been in a serious accident in which he suffered a life threatening injury. He wanted to let the people in our group know he was still around, but his priorities had definitely changed. His Internet business was no longer taking center stage. His life and his family were more important now.

For a long time I’ve pondered the Internet and how it has changed my life. I marveled at being able to type conversations to complete strangers via AOL in 1995. Back then, it was rare to use your real name. My name was “Dancing Thunder” and I loved it. For years I was affectionately addressed as “DT”. My mom joined an email list I belonged to, and even she referred to me as “DT”. She’s always been very cool.

Today, we don’t hide ourselves as much. Rather, we experiment with avatars and re-creations of ourselves in SecondLife. We may be a brand. Our identities may be closely blended with what we do, sell or write about. It’s as if we are one with our creation online. Off the Internet, we are a person. On the Internet, we are a book, website, company, blog or a forum.

Who really knows us, when we are a book or a brand? If someone were to quiz you by a name association game, what would you say jumps out at you as your first thought for people you only know from the Internet? Would it be something that person wants to be remembered for, if they are remembered at all?

What happens when someone we know only on the Internet dies?

Will we even hear about it?

Who will tell us about you and your fate?

Years ago, I had a new moderator who came on board to help at Cre8asiteforums. Not long after, after not hearing from her for a long time, her husband finally took the time to explain to me that she was in a bad accident. He had taken the liberty of handling her email and realized she was missed by us. He may not have known she was helping us.

Does everyone in your life know where you might be missed?

I often wonder about forums. Some have been around a very long time. I’ll never forget the shock of learning that Jim Wilson, of JimWorld and Virtual Promote had passed on suddenly. His popular forums continued on, shaky at first, with an emotionally devastated staff. I later was to have the benefit of one of them, Diane Vigil, come to spend several years helping Cre8asiteforums to grow. I like to think a small spark of his vibrant energy now lives on at Cre8asiteforums, thanks to her contributions there.

When we start something online, such as a blog, website or forums, we don’t often have any idea how long it will last. We don’t know how long we will want to do this thing we start. What if we want to quit? Some of my friends are doing this now. They have started things online and are now moving on. They just say goodbye and we are left with questions.

At Cre8asiteforums we sometimes get this question. “I want to start a forum. How do I get people to it?”

My question for them, that I never ask, is “Do you have any freaking idea what you’re getting yourself into?” Forums are a commitment, no different than parenting. It’s an every day job. No vacation. No holiday. Sometimes, little sleep. And, it’s a labor of love for most of them. Most forums are not revenue models.

When you create something that lives and breathes on the Internet, how many years do you expect it to live there? Will it outlast you? Will you get bored and leave it and if so, how do you pull the plug on yourself?

What do you leave behind nowadays?

A dozen years ago, no one would have thought that an obituary would have website URLS in it. Today, you can search on people and read what they wrote and find where they wrote it. Your pictures are on the Internet. So is a map to your house. And yet, if you were to suddenly disappear from forums where you post regularly, would someone think to ask what happened to you?

I’ve been asking questions like this because I’m noticing some things I don’t like about where the direction the Internet is going. There is an extreme presence of ego. There is an odd new permission that it’s acceptable to be unkind, even to people you know. Advertising is drawing in user generated content. Some of it is hilarious and amusing. Not all of it is about the product however. The incentive for user generated content is to be seen.

It’s as if everyone is so fed up with being invisible and unnoticed that they’ll resort to any kind of tactic to be recognized and validated.

If you think the Geico commercial cavemen are doing it for Geico, think again. It’s far cooler to be known as a caveman right now. Advertisers are not stupid. They love and appreciate human ego and especially, vanity and greed.

How did it happen that the Internet, which conveniently makes it possible for people from around the world able to talk to each other, has suddenly made everyone insignificant unless they do something spectacular online? You haven’t made it unless you have been Dugg, spoofed, videotaped, sued, or gossiped about online.

Do you want to be remembered for the video of you naked or photo of you doing something stupid with your friends or for the time you wrote something half-cocked in anger, posted it and were unable to take back your words?

On the Internet, you never really know for sure what anyone will do next, or if they will even be here tomorrow. I wonder how many give thought to how they want to be remembered. How many have plans in place for their web property if they meet a sudden demise?

I find myself thinking about the man whose life threatening injuries caused him to return to the physical world, to people he can see and talk to in person.

I question the connections we make online and the differences they may be from those we make in our personal lives off-line. While saying goodbye to a search engine marketing friend recently, he kissed my cheek as we hugged our farewells. I can’t tell you what that meant to me. It was a surprise gesture and not one I’m used to because the majority of people I correspond with are people I type to everyday. I never hear their voices. Never shake their hand.

It just felt so good to feel a human connection.

 

9 thoughts on “Internet Life: When You Leave Us, Will We Know It?

  1. Toni and I know how you feel. Of all those who started with us on a newbie board back in 1998 there are only three or four left.

    One died that we know of and the rest just faded away.

    Perhaps even more sad is that one of those who is still around lives in the same town we do. We can chat quite animatedly online but when we meet him face to face it’s awkward and we seem to have nothing to say.

    Somehow I’m glad that, while some of our kids work online, we don’t talk to them online. We might send the occasional email but usually we pick up the phone and call them.

  2. That’s a great post, Kim. I guess I’m less turned off by the 5% or less who think being ‘famous’ is what it’s all about. So they spend enormous amounts of energy and bandwidth to get their seconds of fame via link-bait or Digg, then the world moves on. What does delight me about the Internet is the huge potential it has for creating connections. It may take a little time and they come in twos or threes but gradually you build up a network of people you would never have met otherwise. Cre8asite is a great example of that phenomenon.

  3. Thanks, Kim. That’s a really great post. I’ve thought about this issue, as well. The only thing I ever regret about having gone free lance and working alone is the lack of human contact. That’s why I started blogging and why I joined Cre8asite – I wanted some kind of human contact; and working from home, internet communities were the best I could do.

    It’s worked out really well for me, and meeting you and so many other people at SES Chicago was just incredibly valuable. It was this great transition from a user id and a lot of words to a living, breathing, warm person.

    It’s hard to know what’s happened when a person, blog, website suddenly goes quiet, without warning. Sometimes, you don’t even know a real name behind the site to try searching for information – no name, no location…what can you do?

    Molly Ivins died today. As a hugely respected newspaper columnist, her death has had a huge impact and is very visible. I wonder if the same kind of impact will arise from a prominent blogger’s death?

  4. I was sad to see the news on Molly last night too. She had a helluva battle.

    This post has been rolling around for months, like a bunch of marbles crashing into each other. I really struggled with it (ask Eric. That one post up there took me 2.5 hours to write and re-write) because I had so many connecting thoughts to a theme I had trouble clearly defining. I wasn’t sure how to put it all together, but I hoped something good would leak out.

    One thing that may be related to my thoughts here is the interest in localization. It’s happening on the Internet, like for SEO’s who are starting to focus on local campaigns and usability design that considers more intimate, friendly communicative content for its visitors. I see it also when some of my peers and friends are starting new ventures, whereby they get involved with their local business communities with workshops and seminars, or networking events.

  5. I have often thought about this. I wonder if I would ever know what happened to my “friends” should I never hear from them again.

    A nice topic to blog about…I think I’ll do the same.

  6. My motivation for creating a blog is actually related to your comments. Part of my incentive is to leave something behind for those who come after me. I have no delusions that it’s great and I’m not always proud of everything I write, but it is all about me.

    I lost my grandfather when I was a child. (I think) He was an interesting man, WWII vet among other things. Unfortunately all I have of him are a few pictures and some letters he wrote to his grandmother. I know very little about his life. I hope, that when my time comes, that my nephews, nieces and hopefully children or even grandchildren will be able to look at my activity out here and get a glimpse into my day to day life that they wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.

    Maybe no one will ever care, but I think of all these writings as a legacy of sorts.

  7. That was a beautiful post. We all have thoughts like that where we don’t know what goes on beyond what we see on a monitor. I have made friends on the internet that have left and gone. But the human connection that you spoke of feels so good. I took about 4 months of my life last year and just decided to leave for a little bit. I hardly had any phone or internet. To some, that might be hard to do but you adjust and you see the world for what it is, the people. The connections I made with those people felt so good on a personal basis. You can’t imagine feeling that way, but they do it all the time, no technology and they are happy. I miss those connections now that I am plugged back in. Thank you for the great blog entry.

  8. It happened to me. I lost my best friend to death on my b-day no less. Met him on the internet, talked to him every day, called him on the phone. He was my best friend. Whats worse is that he wanted me to be his. I had to tell him no. Three days later he died.

    Our gang did not find out until two weeks later, we were devastated, but I was his closest friend. My b-day will have double meaning now. I will be happy for me living another year but also look back and think about my friend and everything he brought with him to me. I am a better person for knowing him.

    My sl husband lost his last wife to death also, its what brought us togethor. We new the pain, we helped each other recover.

    I give my phone number out to my closest friends, tell them if I am absent for more then a couple days please call my house. And they know how to contact the others. I dont wont them to know something happened to me two weeks later. There is also a busniess set up in SL just for this.

    I talk to my friend that died every day. Miss him dearly. The people u connect with in the internet are people u know real well, real fast.

    If I die I don’t care if how they remember me, just that they do.

    Scarlet

  9. It works because reputable writers make links to things they consider reputable sources. So readers, when they find something distasteful or unreliable, don’t just hit the back button once, they hit it twice. They remember not to follow links again through the page which took them there.

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