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Will our digital footprint eventually reveal the truth about us? Or, what will we leave behind?

Picture credit: Smabs Sputzer

Full fat version posted here. Aspin’s Essentials here.

Who knows what happened to them?

I don’t know for sure where that school photograph was taken. It’s believed to be Manchester, England in 1910. What is for sure is those kids will most likely be long dead.

Did they find “it”?

Did those kids ever grow up and find what they might have called “happiness”? Or were their lives so focused on the struggle to make a living they didn’t have chance to discover how to make a life? Perhaps some of them did build meaningful lives and were grateful for the good things? Who knows?

What we leave behind, fist fighting, and a beautiful princess.

There’s at least one idea that makes our lives different from theirs, and its impact could last forever, good or bad. First, let’s talk about school discos, bare knuckle fist fighting, and falling in love with an Indian Princess.

The other night I took my six year old boy to his “school disco”. The school building’s been around since the 19th century, so it’s seen thousands of kids enjoy the fun and excitement of discos, or whatever kind of parties they’ve had there.

Photos and videos.

I’ve loads of photos of Alex having fun, and quite a few videos. I’ve no videos of me as a kid, just a handful of pictures, and I know of only one or two from my teenage years.

I was brought up by my grandparents who died a long time ago. I don’t have any close relatives who can recall memories of when I was growing up. That’s why it was excellent to see my “auntie Gillian” the other day (really she’s my first cousin once removed!), the only person I’m in contact with who knew me as a kid. She gave me a photo of Clogger Jack.

Clogger Jack.

Clogger Jack is my great, great, grandfather. He died in 1931 but it was amazing to see this photo taken around 1900. All I know about Clogger Jack is what Gillian told me: he worked as a steeplejack, and as a bare knuckle fist fighter in Blackburn, Lancashire, he was a pretty tough guy! His brother, Luke, is said to have fallen in love with and married an India Princess.

We know so very little of Clogger Jack and his brother Luke. They don’t have a “digital footprint”. They didn’t take photos and put ’em on FLICKR. They never wrote an e-mail, took a digital video for YouTube, or wrote a comment on someone’s blog. All I know of them is a couple of pieces of information passed on by word of mouth, and I’ve no idea how accurate it is.

Things will not be the same for us or our kids! – our digital footprint could, in theory, stick around forever!

I wonder if my son Zach inherited 1/64th of Clogger Jack’s genes?

If you want to know about someone, you’ll probably start by doing an online search. It’s likely you’ll find all kinds of stuff about pretty much anyone you want.

Our kids, and their kids, will grow up in a connected world where information is freely available, and we’re just getting used to what that might mean.

Whilst I know almost nothing about Clogger Jack, and beyond my own family experience, relatively little of my grandparents, my kids will know lots of things about me, and you. Many of us have already left a massive digital trail.

So, what do we want to leave behind?

Leave behind, not just in the sense of a legacy after we’re gone, but in terms of how we are known and perceived in our lives. We know this Internet stuff won’t just disappear, we’ll have to live with it, good or bad.

Here’s the good news, and the bad.

Think about this: Perhaps our “digital footprint” will, on balance, reveal who we really are. What I mean is, what we say, and what is said about us, will present a picture of different aspects of our lives, our activities, and personality. Even if someone tells the odd lie about us, is nasty, cruel, or totally inaccurate, I reckon, over time, on balance, the digital data will add up to something close to a fairly accurate picture of who we really are.

That’s scary. It’s also liberating.

If we are fake, or out to rip people off, etc. that still will “come out”.

Now here’s the good news: If we want to do good stuff, be useful, helpful, kind, caring, fight injustice, have great ideas, make a positive difference etc. that stuff will “come out” too.

So potentially, everything could be “out there” in the digital realm, possibly forever. How we live our lives, the authentic self (including the embarrassing photos our mates took on their mobile phone cameras), as much as it is revealed in the physical world, could be captured and be available to everyone.

How do we feel about that?

Like Clogger Jack and the 1910 school kids, we know we too will soon (relatively!) be gone. But perhaps we will not be as easily forgotten.

We know “life is short”.

The question is, what are we going to do with the time we have, knowing that sooner or later, people will be able to connect the dots, put two and two together, and see what kind of person we really are?

Thanks very much for reading this post. I really appreciate it and hope you enjoyed it. I want to know what you think. Do you believe what we really are eventually comes out through our digital life? What have you learned from discovering stuff about your ancestors? See you in the comments. Much love, Ian.