Why do I tweet anything? I imagined my own funeral, with my kid sister wheeling in a gigantic screen. As people approach my coffin, a scrolling timeline of every tweet I’d ever composed plays quietly. People would know that in January 2012, I was drunk in Atlantic City trying to steal motorized scooters out of the Showboat casino. People would know the exact date and time every major thing happened in my life. It would all be there in 140 characters or less. That question rolled down a hill and grew into something more gigantic: Why do we blog?
It starts with accepting a simple fact: We are not permanent. When I came home with my first greasy tattoo, shiny and covered in Aquaphor, my parents asked me why. There was not one reason, but an evolving set of reasons. It started out with 17-year-old me telling my mom and dad that I wanted to express myself. That reason changed. People say that tattoos are forever. They are not. One day, all that ink in my skin will break down and become part of the soil. One day, the art will be the thing that helps the grass grow. What people deemed “permanent” will take on a whole new life. I will be one of the dads on the playground, using my arms to push a swing. Those arms will be covered in animals and quotes from books. That is not permanent …just temporary …only having meaning while my body is still a body.
The quest for permanence is what makes us tweet the set list right after the show. It causes us to announce every movie we watch, book we read, and to instantly review everything. Little by little, the camera in our brain and the pictures stored in our body’s memory have become antiquated. It is a romantic idea, but not a permanent one. The memories we store for ourselves fade. The context of the pictures is lost when we can’t explain it. So we created a hard record of ourselves using the most rock-solid, written-in-ink tool we have: the internet.
That’s more power than generations before us had. The ability for anyone, no matter how famous or talented, to create a permanent record of whatever they feel is meaningful or important is a gigantic concept, and one often overlooked. It is for this reason that the power is often abused. Videos go viral every day. People become defined by certain bits of their record: the day the flaming shot of liquor went wrong, the obsessive One Direction fan video, the slip up at work, the prank that backfired …all at the exact moment someone held up an iPhone to film all of it. People reblog, retweet, re-edit, repost videos countless times until they take on a life of their own. The sheer power of recording a moment, an idea, an event and breathing life into it via the internet is apparent and real.
So maybe the question evolves from “Why do we blog?” to “What do our blogs accomplish?” The perception of how important being permanent is did not start with us. It has always existed. The earliest poets wrote about staying alive forever through their words and songs. But when I turned 14 years old, the vague notion of “making my mark” mixed with something new: the idea that I was infinitely special. Everyone told me to chase down my dreams, no matter how fast my dreams ran. I was going to work hard, be rewarded, accomplish something great, be like no one else alive, change the world. My parents told me that story, then my grandparents, my aunts, uncles, and teachers corroborated it. I was meant to make a mark. I was meant to be better than my parents, to accomplish more than they could — to do the things they couldn’t. If I wanted to film the world, photograph it, dance on it, yell at it, write to it, or sing about it, that would be my job and someone would notice me as long as I wanted it bad enough. I was not only going to make a permanent dent but everyone would know that I existed.
To admit that the above paragraph is ridiculous is not admitting defeat. The fact is that we can not live forever, no matter how good our blog is or how many followers we have. One day, all our words, while they will still exist in the permanent ether that is the internet, will take on another life. Like a viral video, other people will define them. The best we can hope for, much like all those poets, is that somewhere, some shred of truth and meaning lives in the words. We keep our own permanent records, sometimes forgetting how powerful that is. What we chose to say/show on the internet will not fade away, it may change over time thanks to reblogs and re-posts and comments, but it never goes away.
I still think about my sister rolling out that screen. The tweets start slowly scrolling, all 50, 60, 70, 80 years of them. Even with a three-day viewing, no one could read every one. Yet, there it is, a record of the life I had, 140 characters at a time. From the midnight movies I watched and the fuzzy misspelled drunk ramblings to the defining moments — the love I shared, the pictures that made me laugh, the promotions, layoffs, packing, unpacking, every moment I was afraid, every moment of confidence. Why do I blog? Because deep down, I know how transient I really am. My posts may be permanent, but my person certainly is not.