Identity, memory, death and the internet

Lofty title perhaps, but a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year + since our excellent colleague, Lee Baber died of lung cancer. A shining light that woman… and one that I’m reminded of every week. Not just in the legacy of good work and good friends that she left behind, but also on the internet. Her name is everywhere. I’ve got her in my skype account, still, she’s in my gmail memory thingy, she’s in a half dozen of my friends lists on different sites. If you a google search for me, or edtechtalk or, well, or alot of things, you’ll see her name. The page linked to above is a fine example of that… a fine person through the eyes of her colleagues. A memorial, like many others created over millenia, it’s just that this one has a different medium than most of its predecessors.

Identity is, for me, things being identical over time. When i think of my own identity i look for those things that are the same in two different incarnations or timestamps and calls those things identical. To say that there is no identity is to say that things aren’t the same, and to look at someone’s identity is to look for those things that are the same over the period you are looking at. The internet makes this both more complicated and less so. There is a sense where it crystalizes your performance of yourself and makes it possible to measure if two performances are identical, and while all things might be performance, it is difficult to think that the premeditated performance mediated through the internet somehow encompasses a ‘person.’

That being said, we are creating this identity in little bits all the time. We leave little trails of ourselves in different places only for them to crystalize when we stop feeding the beast. In Lee’s case… that was her very rapid, sudden death. No time to wrap things up or ‘set things straight’ we are left with a snapshot of her work the day she stopped doing it. There is the possibility for remixing, for reshuffling, for her projects to grow (and this is happening in some cases) but the image we have of her is crystalized in a way that is unique to our particular period in history.

When we talk about students putting ‘stuff on the internet that will stay with them for the rest of their lives’ we sometimes forget, i think, that in our local communities the stuff we do stays with us for the rest of our lives. Our communities allow for growth, they all for things to no longer be identical, for new patterns of behaviour to emerge, for new things to be identical. We adapt for the fact that people ‘grow out of things’ that there is a time and place for each kind of thing. We will, as a culture, adapt to this new memory that we have, this digital memory, and we will no longer worry about such things (any more than we do about the silly things we’ve done in our childhoods are anything more than an injoke in our hometowns (depending 🙂 )

Me and my older brother
Dave Cormier and Stephen Cormier
Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of my older brother’s death. Stephen Cormier was, in my memory, the older brother that little boys dream of. He taught me things, brought me along to the drive even though his girlfriend was going, taught me some tricks with a three-wheeler i probably shouldn’t have known… 8 years older than me, he died at the now ridiculously sounding young age of 22. He was very old and mature to me at the time, but he died 12 years younger than I am now. I remember him mostly in a series of film clips now (or so i described it to bon last night) the time we flipped that three-wheeler and i tried to hide the full length calf bruise from my parents, that drive in, wrestling in the drive way. But i still remember.

Just not in a digital way. Not with the 1600 http://flickr.com/opoe + photos bon and I already have posted of our kids. The video http://youtube.com/davecormier . The incredible blog posts over at http://cribchronicles.com. Our grandkids will, barring a worldwide meltdown, KNOW their parents and grandparents in a way that we never did. Identity… particularly in this sense of being able to see how two things are the same over time… and how they are different, is a far more present concept.

I don’t and never have until the last couple of days, thought about his digital identity. About the fact that, for whatever i do online, I have never mentioned that name “stephen cormier” in a blog post or a tweet. His name, to my searching, didn’t exist anywhere. It got me to thinking about Lee and about the good and the bad of our identities online. About the concern that some people have about what kinds of things that people post and how i often warn people that they should be cultivating their online identities. There is a longer, more human thing at work here that I’m reaching for. There is a sense in which we are storing the memories of ourselves, of our friends, of the ways that we are all connected to each other. Of our love.

So. 20 years later. This is my flag in the ground for my long lost brother. cheers.