NPR logo The Long Memory of the Web

The Long Memory of the Web

Much has been made about the online connectivity of the students at Virginia Tech... how they instant messaged each other from underneath desks and created memorials to the victims on Facebook. It certainly adds another dimension to the conversation we often have on our airwaves about the privacy generation gap and the web. Students have put so much information about themselves on the web through their Facebook and MySpace pages that it made each victim much more human, much more easily accessible. NPR had pictures up of each student within days after the shooting, and we were able to write mini-bios for our show the next day. I had the heartbreaking anthropological job of finding what was on the web about each student... and I was surprised by how glad I was that these young people had left a trail for me, or anyone who wanted to mourn a little, to find. (On another note, I was also surprised that a common trope: "Any predator can find you on the internet!" turned out to be patently false... especially Facebook. It was impossible to get into the pages of the victims... all the information I culled was from the memorial sites that were made public.)

I have often argued with my own parents about the value of being so easily found on the web... I think the "ick" factor for them is mostly about privacy ("WHY would you want strangers to know anything about you?"). I'm not going to deny that I felt a little creepy reading through the comments about these young people... but in the end, I was glad that I knew that Ross Alameddine was a stickler for grammar, and that Emily Hilscher made too much calamari for her Spanish class. If the gunman and his illness made him dehumanize these students so much that he was able to murder them... then I'm glad that they not only exist, but are still so devastatingly human in the long memory of the web.