The most important impact on my life and yours is that the Internet grants immortality. Think of your old archaeology/sociology/history course, or your visits to various museums. Think of how painstakingly arrowheads, outhouses, bones, beads, textiles, sentence fragments etc. have been discovered, uncovered, studied, and preserved.
But these few scraps have provided real knowledge while leaving large lagoons filled with conjecture, theories, speculation and outright fairy tales. Despite this, we still know an awful lot about a very few.
Because most of our knowledge of the past depends on very little about very few, the story of very few lives survives.
As we got better at transmitting and preserving data, we learned quite a bit more about many more.
Biographies could rely not just on letters, songs, and folk tales but on increasingly complete business ledgers, bills of sale, newspapers, and government and religious records.
By the time of the last great typhoid epidemics and fires in the U.S. and Europe, we could trace the history of specific houses, families, wells, cows, and outhouses. We could build a specific history of a neighborhood, family, and individual. But there were still very large lagoons in our knowledge. Not so today. Any electronic archaeologist, sociologist or historian examining our e-lives would be able to understand, map, computer, contrast, and judge our lives in a degree of detail incomprehensible to any previous generation. Think of a single day of our lives. Almost the first thing that happens after turning off an alarm clock, before brushing teeth, having coffee, seeing a child, or opening a paper is reaching for that phone, iPhone, or Blackberry. As it comes on and speaks to us or we speak through it, it continues to create a map of almost everything in our lives.
Future sociologists and archaeologists will have access to excruciatingly detailed pictures on an individual basis of what arrived, what was read, ignored, deleted, forwarded and responded to. Complement this stream of data with Facebook, Twitter, Google, blogs, newspapers, analyst reports, Flickr, and you get a far more concrete and complete picture of each and every one of us than even the most extraordinary detail found by historians on the most studied, respected and reviled of leaders.
And by the way, this cache is decentralized. It exists and multiplies at various sites. Digging through the Egyptian pyramids will look like childâ€™s play compared to what future scholars will find at Google, Microsoft, the NSA, the credit bureaus or any host of parallel universes.
It is virtually impossible to edit or eliminate most traces of our lives today and for better or worse, we have now achieved that which the most powerful Egyptians and Greeks always sought â€” immortality.
So how has this new found immortality affected my thinking? Well those of a certain age learned long ago, from the triumphs and tragedies of Greek Gods, that there are clear rules separating the mortal and immortal. Trespasses tolerated and forgiven in the fallible human have drastic consequences for Gods. In the immortal world all is not forgiven and mostly forgotten after you shuffle off to Heaven.