Last Thursday I called home to talk to Mom, and her sister, my Aunt Theresa was there visiting. I don’t know how to paint an appropriate picture of Aunt Theresa. She was that mythical creature that all the cousins my age talked about in whispers, hoping that she would bestow her time and attention on. She was the crazy aunt. The fun aunt. The aunt both my sister and I want to be for each other’s children. She’s an amazing woman, full of contradictions and possessing no fear.
(My mom kicks ass too, but she is my Mom and therefore, not mythical.)
Anyway, I got to have a talk with the two of them, which was awesome, but I noticed something in the way they talked that I hadn’t noticed before. When I mentioned a place, Aunt Theresa brightened and told me that a (cousin I don’t know) was currently there, and then proceeded to list her accomplishments. Then, they were telling a story about another girl, and they worked together to remember her name, and who her children were, taking time out of the story to confer with one another. Then they talked about Uncle Ed and his cancer treatments. They weren’t just telling me the news, they were composing pieces of our oral history.
There was something stylized when they spoke, detailing these events. Something different than when we were talking about Aunt Theresa’s son Von, or where she would be for the weekend. These women were trained to know who each of their family members ere, even extended family. Their memories were primed for it. I remember being at family reunions and getting the same training. “That’s Jennifer, she’s Connie and Jack’s daughter, Connie’s from the Dobrenz family, they live over there..”
These days, we have social media to tell us people’s connections. It’s not something we socially need to dedicate to our memories. And one thing I’ve noticed about things we don’t need to dedicate to our memory. We don’t. We simply don’t have time to remember the name of our third cousin, even if your dad and his second cousin were really close.
The impact of the Internet on society is incalculable. I have a friend who lives in Snohomish and a friend that lives near Tucson, and in my head they’re the same distance away, because I talk to them every day. They’re just down the street, right?
I wonder what will happen when the Internet turns us all into little islands of data. I don’t see anyone wanting to go back to the pre-Internet world, where finding information was not just a “pick up the smartphone” action. I remember running a game in 1997, where I gave a character unlimited access to the Internet (as it was in that time.) Then, because she abused the power and unbalanced the game, I cut her off. Her next action was to go insane.
I think we’d find a way to cope. After all, the Farmer’s Internet evolved as a way to keep track of each other as families. I just wonder if we’ll manage to develop Internet Empathy, and start caring about the other islands of data around us.