Internet Time Machine

Blogging Ourselves to Live

A eulogy for our former online selves

Photo by Nilotpal Kalita on Unsplash

This story is part of the Internet Time Machine, a collection about life online in the 2010s.

TThe air was surprisingly thin for a beach town and I was 2 A.M.-drunk (in the real world, it was about four in the afternoon). I stumbled through Rockaway, Queens looking for my friend Matt’s house, physically and emotionally lost. “Green Eyes” was looping on my iPod in remembrance of the ex who’d broken up with me 20 hours prior and who did not have green eyes, but close enough.

Matt, a college friend, had invited me to his hometown’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration after my boyfriend abruptly put the kibosh on our relationship the day before. I was open to distraction, so in the morning four of us piled into Matt’s car and drove to his house where his mom made us breakfast and took our picture, all colleged and cute. Cut to six hours later: me, rip-roaring wasted, wandering around Queens under the influence of Coldplay. Eventually I found Matt’s house (and my friends), and after a group Chinese food order was placed, I crawled upstairs to my accommodations — Matt’s little brother’s bedroom — where a bunk bed and a desktop fought over me. Which would I give myself to?

I was looking for something, a clue, so I turned to the computer and then to Myspace, the way one looking for something in 2013 might turn to Instagram or Twitter or Facebook or wherever the person who just broke their heart might leave a hint, some sort of status update, some thing that says, I’m hurting, too.

And I found it. My ex had published a private blog post 20 minutes earlier, and oh, but “private” does not mean what you think it means, because I knew his password and he knew I knew his password, and this was obviously written not for him but for me, so I logged into his account and read it. I read the thing he left for me to find, the breakup Easter Egg, the manifesto confessing he didn’t know why he’d broken up with me, that he still loved me, that he was questioning his decision and that this might’ve been the biggest mistake of his life. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever written about me.

We were back together five hours later. His blog post was struck from the record shortly thereafter.

BBefore I realized how expensive ink is, I used to print everything. Paper proof of my digital trails. Here is a chain letter poem that made me cry. Here is an email survey I filled out wherein I am particularly candid and witty and so very me. Here is my 1997 Catfish-crush’s diary entry, in which he says goodbye to me and several other digital friends because he is going to die. And by “die,” I mean he is going to commit internet suicide and go back to whatever he considered to be his real life. I keep these things in an accordion folder in my closet, along with handwritten letters that were folded in square shapes and chucked across classrooms or tucked into too-tight teenaged jeans. It sounds silly to give these print outs physical real estate, but I don’t regret filling in the blanks of my life with what unfolded on the internet. I actually regret not doing it more often.

OOccasionally I become consumed by the idea that I can somehow find — somehow restore — all the droppings I’ve left on the internet over the last two decades. I want back the IMed conversations that caused tears to roll from my eyes, I want back the alt girl e-zines I subscribed to, wrote poetry for. I fill out AOL’s Reset Password form and send new passwords to email addresses I don’t own anymore; I use the Way Back Machine to search for the diary I kept in 1999. I am hunting for traces of my former self so I can take a glimpse or kill it or I don’t know what. The end result is always the same, of course; these things are gone, they have been wiped away, they do not exist.

I have not been an active Myspace user in years. Still, I’d formed a habit where I’d login once a year or so, just to see what a ghost town my Top 8 has become, just to remember what a master of mirrored angles I was in another life. Then Myspace became New Myspace and things started to disappear. Photos and messages and most notably, blogs. I couldn’t remember what content I’d abandoned on Myspace, but it didn’t matter — suddenly, I wanted it. I needed it. And I wasn’t alone. There were users who had kept track of everything using Myspace, users who were more engaged than I was and had more at stake (the last pictures of friends who’d died, blogs by people who no longer existed, etc.). The mob took to message boards and comments sections across the internet, threatening to sue Myspace over the removal of their content.

I empathized with these people, but I initially thought they were overreacting. Most people have loved and lost the things they’ve created on the internet again, and again, and again. But I guess it’s only silly if losing records of the things you took the time to write and publish is a thing you accept. We were told — warned, even — that what we put on the internet would be forever; that we should think very carefully about what we commit to the digital page. And a lot of us did. We put thought into it, we put heart into, we wrote our truths. We let our real lives bleed onto the page, onto the internet, onto the blog. We were told, “Once you put this here, it will remain forever.” And we acted accordingly.

Blogs, the journals we always wanted. Permanent places where the handwriting would never fade, records you could not lose in a fire. We wanted a diary that could talk back, validate us. We were blogging ourselves to live — to extend our thoughts beyond the boxes in our closets and add to the pile of proof that we exist. Life is no longer confined to those moments of drunkenly wandering around Queens and pining for your ex, it is not just ordering Chinese food and passing notes. It’s the conversations that happened leading up to those events, the blog posts that followed them. Our digital prints take up physical space in our lives. When they’re erased by a company abruptly and without warning, it’s something of a modern arson. Your records still exist somewhere, maybe; albeit not within your reach. But ashes don’t make for great reading material, do they?

Keep exploring the Internet Time Machine.

former editor-in-chief of human parts. west coast good witch. student of people.

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