The Permanence of Ephemera

11/18/2008 11:20:00 pm

I was listening to the radio in the car tonight on the way home from a parent info night at my kids school and thinking about email. Many people don't regard email as meaningful communication; it's not really connecting because it's so transient. Like online ecards. All this online stuff is so ephemeral. It's not as meaningful as stuff that takes more time to do, like sending a "real" card.

I don't buy that.

The ephemera of online "stuff", stuff you can't touch, is an illusion. Places like the Internet Archive and (actually, they're in cahoots with each other) allow you to store an unlimited amount of your digital "stuff" online for free, forever.

This got me thinking about my students class blogs. Some of them are four years old now.

Those students (who were in grade 12 at the time) are in University now or have entered the workforce and are living their lives far beyond the boundaries of the classroom where we met. The papers they handed in, the exams they wrote, the assignments they did in class, all the "real" stuff they did is long gone. Irretrievable really.

The digital stuff they did, the scribe posts they wrote, their reflections on where they were in their learning and what was going on in their lives as it impacted them at school, the digital photographs they took, the projects and assignments they published online, they're all still there and they will likely remain there for a considerable amount of time to come. They will likely be able to show off their finest stuff to their kids. Perhaps even their grandkids some day.

It seems to me these digital ephemera have a lot more permanence than any of the paper and pencil work they did in school.

I received an email from a student of mine from about four years back. It was a thank you note. The kind of note a teacher is blessed with rarely. Perhaps once in a career. I'm keeping it. Backed up in two different online spaces. I don't know why, I just want to. It hasn't added any clutter to a busy household with four kids in it. It has added meaning to what I did four years ago and what I'll continue trying to do tomorrow morning.

Just because digital "stuff" is easy to create doesn't make it less valuable. In many ways it adds value, and permanence.

Then again, maybe it isn't so easy to make "digital stuff"; meaningful digital stuff. I'm still trying to get my head around it all.

Photo Credit: Elegant green wisp by flickr user Cheekybikerboy

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