Sunday, March 26, 2006

Traipsing in the Dark

Cyberspace is full of dead people; it’s crawling with traces of people’s last thoughts, last sentiments, last human impressions.

In a sense, mankind has unwittingly created an electronic version of immortality.

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Simon Ng was a college freshman in New York. In May 2005, somebody tied him up and repeatedly stabbed him in the chest with a butcher knife—but that was minutes after Simon made his very last blog entry.

That blog entry later helped the police trace the murderer.

There’s a quirky side story why I signed up on Friendster in the first place. For some years, I ignored it because I considered it merely a fad for teenagers. But one day in the summer of 2004, a girl was murdered in her own condo unit. The girl was a Metrobank employee, and days after her death, an email circulated that directed people to her Friendster account. I couldn’t resist it; I was on Friendster faster than you can say “Bienvenido Jesus Torres.”

Since then, while I struck “friendships” with total strangers, I realized the heartrending side of Web-based services like blogs and social networks. People remain “alive” on the Web even years after their passing. And often, so few realize it.

Friendster, for example, doesn’t delete an account even if it remains inactive for many, many months. In October 2004, amateur mountaineer Prana Escalante died on Mt. Halcon. Anybody who is curious enough may still see her account and learn how much she loved life and Samurai X.

Sometimes, things are fresh as today’s headlines. There was a woman who was manager of that McDonald’s branch on Taft Avenue beside DLSU, and the last time she accessed her account was hours before her bitter officemate shot her in the head.

Folks with “normal” sensibilities are usually “shocked” when I’d tell them I dredge the Web for traces of people’s lives. But I can’t help it; I’m consumed with the desire to know these people as human beings, not as some goddamn statistic.

Like Johnny Smith in Stephen King’s novel, The Dead Zone, or that kid in M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense, I see dead people as I caress and romance the dark underbelly of cyberspace. There are times I’d be staring at my monitor for long moments, placing myself under their skin, retracing the last seconds their fingers tapped on those keyboards,

And I wonder and wonder about the meaning of it all.

Technology gives our human presence some sort of “permalink” to the wired and wireless masses in such a way that persists as long as the foundations remain in place. In Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, the “evil” genius Totenkopf fools the world for two decades into believing that he’s still alive, when it’s merely his machines that have been continuing his work down to the last details of the man’s disdain of humanity.

And it’s not only about dead people, but also about dead websites. A month ago, I rediscovered the Internet Wayback Machine, and saw again the homepage of a literary site I used to maintain.

I called it The Inkblot, for lack of any better name. And years after it “died,” I discovered for the first time how it was full of crap, and how much somebody like me could change in the past five years.

I often wonder how things run these days. How everybody can have access to somebody else’s most treasured feelings and thoughts that would have mortified the living daylights out of somebody like Beethoven, JD Salinger, or Thomas Pynchon.

And more to the point, how practically anybody can leave persistent vestiges of their lives in cyberspace.

Maybe, in a universe where lives are short and people know they are doomed, and where things end without any sense of resolution, we find ourselves consumed with this desire to leave our mark on things that we touch. We find ourselves in situations that somebody like Kazuo Ishiguro loves fleshing out.

And maybe, like Bjork in Dancer in the Dark, it’s our lot to find ourselves so jaded for having seen it all, but still having the heart to cling on, hold on to the brightness of some little spark—whenever, however, wherever we find it.

Simon Ng’s last blog entry on May 12, 2005.

New York Daily News article about the arrest of his murderer.

Latest Dead MySpace members.

For similar posts, see Random Acts of Strangeness.

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Erin said...

Quite an interesting and thought provoking post. I have often wondered at the fates of people that I used to talk to on message boards a long time ago who disappeared and I've never heard from again. I used to have a different blog sometime around 1999-2001 and it's no longer on the internet, but I wish that there was a way for me to go back and read it, as terrible as it must have been.

Michael said...

I love the way that you think. Your thoughts pulled me along and I needed to read more. I kept reading more of your posts until my head hurt because your thoughts stretched my mind too much.

I know I will need to read again.

Take Care

JB said...

Thanks Erin and Micheal. i've been to your blogs, too. very interesting, heartfelt content.

by the way, Erin, if you still remember the URL, you might find your old blog on the Internet Wayback Machine.

swan_pr said...

Wonderful writing. A train of thought that took me for a nice ride.

I've browsed the wayback machine too... Could there be such a thing as nostalgia on the net already? Thank you for the links too.

Kate Douglas said...

Beautifully written and very seductive. Definitely a post to make one think, especially when we realize how young, in the scheme of things, the Internet actually is. I was born in 1950, so much of cyberspace is still magic in my mind, but the thought of bits and pieces of ourselves going on in digital form is truly fascinating.

Erin said...

I've tried looking for mine, but sadly, the wayback machine seems to have missed it. Somehow I think it might be better that way.

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