When I was little I loved nothing more than hearing my father’s stories. He would tell me of the pranks he played at school, his days scavenging at the tip for radio parts, the bike that his father built for him and the tomato soup his mother would make when he was sick. There were better tales – of princesses in castles, of outlaws and heroes - but none resonated like my father’s.
As he spoke I would try to imagine him as a young boy, a child just like me. I would conjure up images of his mother, his friends and the tiny fibro house he grew up in. But they were never more than ghosts – wisps of imagination that would vanish if I grasped them too tightly.
My father was a ghost too. He was there but he was not. I could not reconcile this man with the boy in old photos, creased and curling at the edges. He was a stranger to me, and I to him. I would never know him. That boy was lost to me.
My ancestors are all lost to me. I don’t know the names of my great grandparents, let alone their values or character. When they died, their memory faded with each generation, until they were finally forgotten forever.
My generation will not suffer that fate. We will live on in the ones and zeroes of the Internet. We are the Immortal Generation.
Much has been made of Facebook’s ability to connect people across the globe, changing the way we interact and communicate with one another. But when Facebook implemented its ‘Timeline’ functionality, it ceased to be a mere communication tool. It became a living history of us.
I have friends that pride themselves on rarely using Facebook. They believe it’s too mainstream; it glorifies vapid self-interest; it’s for people with too much time on their hands. I disagree.
Socrates said that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ – a mantra I have lived by since I was thirteen years old. To me, Facebook is the ultimate opportunity to document the life I am supposed to be examining. I can share thoughts, achievements, events and photos with the people I care about. More importantly, I can preserve them for myself.
I can go back in time and relive the elation I felt when I got my first job. I can read posts from far away lovers and remember what it felt like to be missed. I can laugh at videos of my friends and I dancing in the living room and feel grateful to have known them, even if we’ve grown apart. For the examiners of this world, Facebook is the ultimate textbook.
But Facebook has a larger role to play than that. It’s been around for such a short time that we cannot yet envision what it will become decades or centuries from now. One thing that I am pretty sure of is that my descendants will be able to know me the way I never had the opportunity to know my ancestors.
I would love nothing more than to reach into the depths of history and come out knowing my forebears a little better. Why did they come to Australia? Where did they live? Were they happy? Were they in love? But I can’t.
However, my descendants will see photos of me and say, ‘So that’s where my nose came from!’ or, ‘Dimples must run in the family’. They will know that I loved reading and politics and animals. They will know my friends and family. Most importantly, they will begin to know themselves. They will get one step closer to answering the question: ‘Where do I come from?’
In the story of where we come from, we’ve opened a book of inky smudges and empty pages and begun to fill them up in technicolour. The Immortal Generation, as I have dubbed it, will change the future of the past. The past will no longer be out of reach. It will be right there waiting to answer questions we never knew we had. The band Alphaville famously sang, ‘Do you really want to live forever?’ It might be time to answer that question, because forever starts now.