Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Footprints

I had an interesting thought this weekend.

Have you ever wished you could know more about your parents throughout their lives? The way they used to think when they were your age, how they met, who they voted for in past elections, who the bully was in their school, what they thought of you when you were born. How about your grandparents, and their parents?

It's sad isn't it, that our lives pass in obscurity, leaving only the faintest of clues behind for posterity. My mother for instance, will be totally forgotten when I pass away. My kids only know her from a picture on a wall, and from the few stories I've told that are rated G for general audiences.

In the old days, before the telephone, before email, and even before the telegraph, the only way to say I love you to someone far away was by mail. A lot of what we know about George Washington is based largely on his correspondences with friends and relatives.

Here is an excerpt of a letter he wrote to Martha Washington upon learning some big news:
My Dearest,
I am now set down to write to you on a subject which fills me with inexpressable concern-and this concern is greatly aggravated and Increased when I reflect on the uneasiness I know it will give you-It has been determined by Congress, that the whole Army raised for the defence of the American Cause shall be put under my care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the Command of it.
If I could only read a single paragraph from a family member's point of view on any subject of the past, I would feel connected in a small way. But technology took that away from us. How cool would it be able to listen to past phone conversations, for instance. But barring some miraculous national wire tapping and archive scandal, that's not going to happen. History of that nature is just not available to us.

But what if your parents had a blog? Could the internet be taking us full circle?

Natalie, aka the Magnetbabe, claims that she is not a writer, but her readers would certainly beg to differ. The mere act of writing itself technically makes one a writer, and as with any kind of exercise, constant repetition makes one better at it.

I find it ironic that the same technology that isolated us from the community is pushing us back toward it, hearkening back to a time when words were the footprints on the paths we once walked.

18 comments:

Sean Ferrell said...

Years ago I read an article about how historians were mourning a lack of material by which to reconstruct our age. This was in the late 1980s to early 1990s. Their complaint: people don't write letters anymore, and letters are how historians recreate the lives of people. The telephone had supplanted letter writing, and historians feared that future generations would have trouble knowing us due to a lack of personal correspondence.

Just a few months ago I read a similar article, happily, from the exact opposite end of the spectrum. We now have such a MASSIVE amount of written correspondence, and from letter writers as young as pre-teens, that historians will have trouble sifting through it all, and it grows exponentially: web-blogs, e-mail, text messages.

I only fear that historians will have trouble deciphering the shorthand which kids us to let you know when they luv or h8 somthing ;)

Jada's Gigi said...

sucked out of a chimney by a vacume cleaner?!?! OMGosgh!! That in its self is hysterical!! I'll have to come back to read your post...I'm laughing too hard right now! ROFLOL

Scott said...

Sean - So true! I have a hard time understanding what my niece writes. There's an opportunity for a book there, and feel free to use it. An IM to English dictionary.

Cheryl - Yeah, but to a teenager like myself at the time it was very upsetting!

Jada's Gigi said...

OK..I can breathe now...:) interestingly enough, my 23 yr old nephew as well as my 22 yr old daughter have taken up the fine art of writing...letters..yep,, good old fashioned letters...my nephew even bought nice stationary and wax for sealing...we have been the proud recipients of several of these epistles, while he traveled around the country with his job...I suppose lonely evenings and not so much internet access drove him to it but it has been a very enjoyable experience for all parties...My daughter has written several also since moving in with us..to her ex, to her aunt...there is something about the written word that moves people...even if it is not eloquent...it has to do with the time and thought involved i think...and the window it provide into another world..even if its not a very exciting world
my blog provides some of that..my extended family, whom I hardly ever see or speak with keep up regularly by my blog...they make no comments...they just check in...interesting...and kinda cool...

Jada's Gigi said...

I do apologize for laughing...I didn't realize you were so distraught over it...I so sorry they died...:)
Hey, that might be a story you could tell your boys...:)

Scott said...

No worries Cheryl, I'm an old fella now. You are right about the writing thing. Even if it isn't done with the most skill, the idea that someone took the time to do it is more apparent when it is on paper and hand written.

magnetbabe said...

Geez! I'm sorry I said anything! Thanks though. Before I started blogging, I kept journals. I have boxes of them. I started doing it as an early teen at the guidance of my therapist (around the time my parents got divorced). I kept it up for years, well until I started blogging. Sadly I haven't really picked it up since. But my point is that I always thought it would be neat for my kids and grandkids to read after I'm gone. To see the way I thought and watch me mature through my writings including all my silly crushes and how my relationship with Deano grew. I know I would have liked it if my parents and grandparents did that!

Beth said...

I have kept a journal my entire life. I tell lots of family stories. I'm the griot of my family, I think. I don't mind slipping into obscurity. Heck, I'm a permanent resident.

Scott said...

Nat and Beth, now that I think about it some more, it seems that more women keep journals than men do. For me, the blog is the perfect excuse to keep one. It's great for the instant feedback you get, so it's encouraging.

mr. schprock said...

Yes, I think email is wonderful for that one reason: it gets people to write. Now if we can only get them to follow the rules of grammar and spell correctly...

kathie said...

Great post, Scott. You're so right, I think, about coming full circle. I view my blog as a living document representing a small part of who I am, but a part nonetheless. I have 120 year old letters written by my great great grandmother to my great great grandfather the year leading to their marriage. They're incredible in so many ways and an enormous treasure. Yes, there'll be plenty to mark our existence unless it all goes under in the flood...I mean the big one. Hahahaha.

amberdusk said...

Hmmmm that is really interesting to think about. I do wish I know more about my ancestors. Really anyone before me to see if they held the same things to be true that I do. What a great thought that I in my small little blog land could be leaving something for future generations. :)

Bernita said...

Do you think our blogs will still be here for our children to read?
Should we insert in our wills a clause that demands "Do not delete?"
(On the other hand, maybe we should!)

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

Hmm.

This was a most interesting post.

I think, as you say, the advent of the internet will eradicate the problem.

Bernita has a point about the 'Do not Delete'

I might print my whole blog off one day and keep it somewhere in hard copy for future generations or something.

Toni Anderson said...

It's an interesting point.

And yet...in terms of information I think I agree with Sean. Look at wars. We have letters home from the WWII from my great uncle Charlie (and others) and we get snapshots of his life from those letters. But how does that compare to the blogs of soldiers on the frontlines today? How amazing is that? To see the huts in which they live, the bunks, what they do to relieve the tedium?

I do think it is sad we lose so much of of ancestors. I remember visiting my elderly aunts and uncles on Christmas morning, many who grew up in poverty, without electricity or running water--not so very long ago, right? And now they're dead and gone, how can I explain to my children that my aunts and uncles' history is only touching distance away?

Another thought is not everyone writes letters, and not everyone who writes letters has something interesting to say...

I think carrying our memories with us is one of the things that makes us human beings.

Tee said...

A fantastic post, Scott. I never really thought about any of that before. Wow... I'm excited for my children that they will have my blog.

I don't have any kind of journal or such from my parents but my grandmother is almost finished with her autobiography. She's from Austria and was sent to England during WWII when her parents were sent to a concentration camp. (They're Jewish.) ... When she gives me a copy of what she's written it will be priceless to me.

jenbeauty said...

I always saved cards and letters from my aunts and grandmothers. A habit I learned from my Auntie Linda was to always write a note in any card that you sent. A small one in the least.

I am a scrapebooker so I have tried to preserve our family history in those books. When my MIL comes over or one of my parents, every now and again I ask them to write in the books.

My daughter was only 5 1/2 when my Auntie died, but we have tried very hard to preserve her memory. I have tried to do the same with all the grandmothers. They have each made their own efforts and I know my children can look back fondly of them.

This really is a good topic Scott. I am gearing up to start writing more myself. Just about general life things. I am starting to think more again, outside of my realm of life.

Trevor Record said...

Yeah, I don't think that blogs are going to save what a person is like any more than a diary would. Only a blog is worse than a diary: Your thoughts and ideas can be deleted by a magnet now. They are also in the care of people you don't know.


But my family isn't the diary-keeping type of family, and I don't know if we even have old letters. Poor farmers were less likely to write eachother than rich generals. So I guess my blog is a step up. Assuming I have kids.