This is a meditation on Facebook, memory and time.

Workmate and social media phenom Dave Delaney discusses the impact that Facebook’s Timeline (and Facebook in general) are leading to the shift from personal blogs like this one to something completely different.  It’s absolutely worth a read.  

What I wonder is if the idea of digital legacy is all that different from one’s non-digital legacy.  Here’s what I mean.

We have two lockers full of color slides my Grandfather (maternal) shot over his 65 years as the Eakin family patriarch. They are well-filed, and with the exception of the fact that physical slides can’t hold the metadata and findability that digital files can, they’re more or less as accessible as the first entries from webslog.com. That is to say, I am no more or less likely to drag out a slide viewer and queue up the 1972 trip out to the Grand Canyon than I am to look at what I thought about books I read in 2003.

On the flip side, we have maybe three shoeboxes full of slides from my father’s side of the family. They were just less thorough documentarians than my Mom’s family. In both cases, the existence of this content only really “matters” in that it could be looked at if we wanted to look at it.

What allows us to do that is the common format … Little celluloid strips in paper frames. As physical manifestations of a memory, they can be experienced by anyone with a lightbulb and a magnifying glass. What concerns me most in this discussion of digital legacy is less the where … Facebook, myspace, posterous, etc. … and more the how. We haven’t had to recall a piece of digital content 75 years after it happened.

Too, the field is so new that the battle over standards is still being fought. TIFF files may be the true gold standard in uncompressed digital image files now, but one only need look at the evolution of the PDF over 15 years to know that even the most established formats are just one CEO away from a total revamp. As content creators, we have a responsibility to our digital estate to do the sometimes boring work of data warehousing.

We must download our Facebook data. We must seek out apps that grab our tumblr feeds and store them over to a piece of media that we physically control. But at the same time, the creator community needs to constantly look at the basic formats we store in and make sure that we can look at them, manipulate the content, etc. Ansel Adams shot on wet plates. Over time, however, the his estate has taken his fragile legacy and moved it over to both celluloid slides and digital for this very reason.

Like any legacy, who we were digitally speaking is precious and important.  It’s also tremendously fragile … something we’d do well to remember as we watch companies like Facebook and Google strive to become the connective tissue of our digital life.