So considering Mother’s Day was a couple of days ago, it’s not surprising that I’ve been thinking a fair amount about my own mom who died suddenly 27 years ago (has it been that long?) leaving me with a slew of unanswered questions about my family history, my young childhood, her views on life, etc.. Seems like just as I was getting old enough to really have a somewhat intellectual relationship with her as well as a mother-son relationship, she was gone. Still makes me sad.
Last night I had this kind of cool waking dream that is no doubt related to her death and to the holiday. It was at some point in the future, after my own death (hopefully way, way into the future) and my kids were struggling with some of the same questions that I had about my own history. What were they like as kids? Why did we move? What were my grandparents like? But in this dream, even though I wasn’t there to answer them, they had another resource.
What I envisioned was them turning to the computer and accessing an avatar representation of me who carried in him the compilation of all my writing, blogging, photos, movies, oral histories and more that I had created while I was alive. And that avatar was able to sort through all of that information and answer their questions, have a conversation with them in fact, in my voice. At some point in the dream, I realized that the avatar was not only feeding back historical data, but was also using the sum of my work to offer advice and counsel in ways that I most likely would have offered were I alive. Even though I wasn’t there physically, it’s like a piece of my brain lived on, one that was able to provide for my kids a richer understanding of their histories and legacies. Certainly not anything that hasn’t been thought of before, but It was, as I said, a pretty cool vision.
I think that dream brought to light another aspect of why I blog. Not just to reflect. Not just to learn. But in some small way to leave a trail for those who come after me. I certainly can’t predict to what extent those people might find any of this relevant or compelling or useful, but I know I would love to have the chance to dig through the work of my own mother, to learn about her more deeply, to understand who she was and what she stood for. If nothing else, my kids will have that opportunity.
And with that thought, it’s 26 hours of travel home…
Susan bentley says
That’s a great vision and a real possibility with the Web 2.0 world.
Thank you for your contribution to the Web 2.0 conference by SLAV in Melbourne yesterday. It was a delight to hear your expertise and knowledge delivered in your smooth measured American tones. I am sure you met many people during your aussie tour. I delivered the how-to segment about wikis. In case you might like to read some non-educatinal blogs my faltering and quiet voice can be read at Sues Bent http://suesbent.wordpress.com/ and Footballer’s Mother http://footballersmother.blogspot.com/.
I was at the Monday conference in Melbourne and feel that suddenly a whole new world has been revealed to me. I have found the door in the back of the wardrobe and am just stepping through.All is very new and very strange but I am striking out into the unknown, from my desk!Very
I love the avatar idea will, kind of like Jor-El (the father of Superman) who advises Clark at his Fortress of Solitude through the use of an interactive holographic persona/recording. Wow that movie was 30 years ago, now it is a possibility…Steve
John Peters says
Wow, what a great blog. I know exactly what you mean. I lost my mother 17 years ago and there are very few days go by where I wouldn’t love to be able to talk to her again. I have to say it agin great entry in your blog!
Martin Pluss says
You have articulated the exact reason I started online writing in 1993. I took a year off in both years to look after my children in the first year of their lives.
On their monthly birthday for the first year I would write to them about what was happening and how their Grand Parents had died just before them and did not even know they were on the way. I put it all online so it is there for them to read when I am long gone. See left hand column to Nick 1993 and Ali 1996.
The blog was the natural progression.
John Howell says
I would like to simply say, “Thank you Will, thank you…”
Ms B says
While I take your point that one day avatars may be able to interact in ways we can only wonder about, it’s also true that humans have been leaving a trail in so many ways over centuries. There was a nineteenth century quilter who said that one reason she quilted was to leave something behind. And Pompeii’s graffiti writers were, although they maybe didn’t know it, doing the same thing.
I have old letters and photographs and hand-made artefacts, some from my own family, some acquired from elsewhere with an unknown provenance, and they are all in their own ways eloquent about their pasts, however fragmentary that information.
Even if we can say, this is what I mean, this is who I am, the future will be the same as the past, same as now – others will interpret us in their own ways, just as we do the same to them. Sure, the blogs I keep, my Flickr account, such digital things are a trail of me. But I don’t need my grandmother’s avatar peering over my shoulder to have her somehow still alive as I make up one of her recipes, which we still write out for others in her distinctive wording. Everything in the internet isn’t always new, just another way of doing things we’ve done before.
All that aside, you must so wish to have had your mum for longer, and wonder at all you might have known and heard and talked about and laughed at, in the last 27 years.
Thanks for your thought-provoking presentation in Oz. I’ve been quoting bits of it ever since, at work and outside work too.
Lisa Parisi says
I am like Martin. I have been keeping a notebook of letters to my daughter since her birth. It includes stories of her life and stories of my life. Blogging seems to be a natural progression. I feel it will be my legacy to my child. I hope it makes her proud.
Gilbert Halcrow says
I am lucky enough to see what you talk about already in action. I took a lot of video of my mother before she died 4 years ago. The are amongst my daughters favourite video to watch â€“ she can see herself held as a new born by my mum and then hear Nana talk in other videos about when she was young and what daddy was like when he was a baby.
Humanity has always left its trail in fossils, stone, artefacts, words and paper. Now it bits of bits. The â€˜bitsâ€™ help the mind but the heart is the best hard drive of all.
Thanks for the post
Ethan L says
First of all I want to say that i am very sorry about your mothers death. I am sure that that is very hard for you. I think that the dream that you had is very cool. It is very interesting what the mind can come up with. That kind of technology sounds really cool and who knows what the future will bring. I also think that it is cool that you are interested in knowing all about your mom. I am really glad that you posted this because now that I think about it I have a lot of questions for my parents, even my grandma. And in the future I’ll make sure my kids know everything that they want to. It is also awesome that you have this blog and hopefully it will be carried on in the future and even after them because blogging is a great way to express yourself and any topics that you feel are important. Blogging is really cool because there isn’t just one certain thing to talk about you can talk about whatever you want and that is cool to me because I really enjoy expressing myself and maybe one day I’ll get a blog of my own.
meredith Broderick says
I think you tapped into the reason why people blog.
There are few opportunities for kids or adults to express themselves in the modern world that does not involve a “brand name experience” . Nothing taps into their inner thoughts, everything in the 20 century became is so immediate, and impersonal, and involved being non- participating receivers
Modern life has killed most traditional ways of connecting to people in the, past, present or the future. , One good example is the death of letter writing (a lost art for at least a half a century)
One of the best ways to understand history is through the lens of correspondence of one of the players in a historical moment, famous, or average Joe over a period of time. Diary writing also on the decline in the last 100- 50 years is another example.
Blogging a permanent record, ongoing, captures human thought and memory in this way. Even if you are lying outright in your writing, or diary, as I am sure many people did and do on their blogs, it is still a time-line of your that reveals truths of the experience of your life and time.
I guess the public nature of it changes how and what you might write, but not as much as you might think. People even when they lie, tell deep truths about themselves.
Great post, really explores another level of the what blogging is about on a personal and cultural level.
Emily Vickery says
I was at the Museum of Modern Art last March and its showcase exhibit was Design and the Elastic Mind–quite wonderful–designers weaving technology with human experience, i.e. bio-jewlery, visualization of data, nanotechnology. Of the many, many exhibits (200 or so I believe), one was a small box which housed the memories and experience of a deceased loved one. To keep them with you–enhance our human memory. If I recall correctly, the memories projected, rotated, whirled in a tapestry of color images–telling a story, a moment’s twinkle, a smile, a touch.
I bet your idea of an avatar is on its way.
Perhaps one day a loved one’s avatar can be tucked in a shirt pocket next to our heart.
Thanks for your post.
This thought of leaving a trail of information for others after you are gone is a interesting concept. I also like the avatar concept. Ideas like these are great because they start out as good thoughts and then you can see them grow into reality. These ideas would be helpful to have in existence in the future. It would be nice to know more about people from the past using primary sources. Being able to track a persons thoughts and work on the internet would really help people understand our history better. I think that this is a lot like having an online diary. Except anyone can look at this diary and anyone can add feedback or input to this online diary. While reading this post this makes me want to continue blogging and contributing online so there is a trail of my works for others to see where I come from and what life was like. I hope in some way these ideas are fulfilled in the future. It would be nice for families to realize things about there relatives and to learn from others.
Clay Burell says
What a nice post. Really, really nice.
It reminds me of the fine 1995 Andy Garcia film, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead. Garcia plays a gangster-gone-straight who runs a business videotaping terminal patients speaking to they’re loved ones for posterity.
That was cutting edge in 1995, and the taggable, “avatar-ed” image you conjure seems so much more, well, heavenly.
I’m only writing to riff off the poetry of your idea, which I simply find beautiful. You hit the immortality angle that has haunted us since, I suspect, we became conscious, as a species, of our own mortality.
You’re a lit guy, so you surely noticed how Homer’s heroes are haunted not by dying so much as being forgotten, being unknown and literally _nameless_ to their descendants. Glory would at least cause their _name_ to live on in the stories of their exploits.
Then of course there’s the dream of heaven as another immortality wish.
But this waking dream you had. It takes both Homer and Heaven one further: the science and technology have made it possible for us to live on, to be known so intimately now. That’s beautiful.
Doesn’t it make you want to defy the strange resistance we all have in this edu-world to posting video of ourselves communicating, instead of safe old faceless, voiceless text? That question has been on my mind lately about us educators. We’re so video-shy compared to the lifecasters in the larger new media movement. Our children and their children will surely regret that bit of old-fashioned modesty in us. I’m feeling the urge to overcome it.
Ustream, you say? I don’t think so. YouTube? That’s more like it. Webcams. Not on stage, but at home. Not presenting, but relating and revealing. (That’s the first riff. I’m windy today because I’ve got writer’s block and doldrums on my own space(s) right now, sorry.)
The second riff: somebody above mentioned another of our inhibitions – being too honest, too personal, when we go public with our person(a). Seems a call for marking some posts private or password-protected, and allowing access only to our intimate audiences?
And the implications of your idea regarding our tagging practices. When you include future branches of your family tree in your conception of “audience,” that would seem to add new levels to tagging practices.
I really loved this post. Now it’s got me thinking of Spielberg’s A.I. The kid getting holographic answers from a jukebox wizard.
Thanks for the buzz, Will.
Will Richardson says
Two things…writer’s block: TOTALLY there with you. Maybe we should start a club.
Homer: I think that’s why he was among the very few classical authors that I really enjoyed because that struggle for something eternal was so acute. It has become even more so for me since I have had kids. Not that I am living my life for them, but I know that on my deathbed, the one real sorrow I will have is not knowing how things will turn out in their lives.
I think I understand the video discomfort of many, and to be honest, I don’t want a lifestreamed existence. Too much reality TV is not a good thing. I’m thinking more like Charlie Rose, capturing the ideas, the reflections, etc. That’s what would have been more cool for me right now in terms of my own parents. The day to day stuff…eh.
Thanks for the extended comment, Clay.
Clay Burell says
P.S. Blast. I misspelled “their.” Oh for editable comments. 😛
Clay Burell says
I didn’t mean lifestreaming the trivial. I meant sort of heart/mind-to-webcam speaking and reflecting and storytelling, etc, instead of always writing.
Think Petrarch’s “Letter to Posterity.” Think my own aging Dad’s unacted desire to write his memoirs before his last sleep. Think of dialogues with grandchildren-to-be cum somewhat routine habit.
Egad, man, do you mistake me for one of those twits who tweets, “Brushing my teeth. Than cutting my toenails”?
I know you don’t.
I’ll only join that club if I don’t have to write for it.
Christopher D. Sessums says
I’m glad you brought this topic up (and there are some wonderful comments in here too!).
I’ve been reflecting on the notion of ghost blogs, i.e., blogs of users who have died. I imagine this phenomena will begin to take on “new life” as the first wave of bloggers move on to that “undiscover’d country, from whose bourn/No traveller returns–” (Shak. Hamlet).
I think about how in meatspace we have a place to go to, to mourn, remember, reflect, pay our respects. What will this look like online?
Your post provides a wonderful vision of how it could be.
Given my own sense of mortality, it makes sense to start thinking/planning now, if only in a brainstorming-sense.
Plus, I think there’s a screenplay waiting to be written about this!
Clay Burell says
And Christopher, to throw the irresistible local flavor from East Asia in: how will these “ghost blogs” meld with Confucian ancestor worship? The laptop (or holograph) next to the photo of the deceased blogger-ancestor on the altar, behind the incense and candles?
Christopher D. Sessums says
Clay, you nailed it.
Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Where do blog posts go when we die? They never cease (provided your ISP is still in business).
We need to start a company that develops this service for the deceased. Funeral homes aren’t there yet, so maybe we could be first in! (I’m sure Google is already working on this….)
Kidding aside, I am reminded of both an early scene in Star Wars (with Leia and Artoo playing her message) and the beginning of the game Myst (where we are given an intro by the protagonist in holographic form), similar to Will’s vision.
I also like the fact that my identity is dispersed in tiny bytes across the ether. Being a puzzler, i.e., one who enjoys puzzles, I like the idea of searching across multiple forms of representation to create a picture of a person’s life. So I’m not sure I would want my identity isolated in one space, but instead distributed thus requiring those interested in me to explore and put together their own picture of me.
Clay Burell says
Chris, A belated Eureka-riff re: your “distributed identity”: a creative, project-based biography-writing or historiography teacher or professor could do some cool stuff treating our already-distributed online personae as “primary sources” from which student historians or biographers had to draw to construct a representation of us.
What I mean is, like, “Write a biographical sketch of X in what X’s public blog represents his/her public life, but X’s comments on others’ blogs represents his/her (more) private life. Construct a narrative of X’s personal life, tastes, and thoughts by analyzing their Flickr photos, LastFM playlists, YouTube favorites, etc.”
I know I’m freer in comments than I am on my blog posts, for example. And that a good reader could infer a lot about me from those other “primary sources” listed above.
It would be even more interesting, from a literacy perspective, to have more than one person construct a biography or history of the same individual. If you and I, for example, had to sift through the same “legacy” Will has confetti’d the web with, odds are we’d construct significantly different identities due to our different selection choices and subjective bents.
Interesting, anyway. Just playing around, whiling away the writer’s block.
Christopher D. Sessums says
I could kiss you Clay!
Clay Burell says
( 😛 )