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The long tails of our lives

How will you be remembered 100 years from now? I was thinking about that this morning. Most of us, if we’re remembered at all, will be summarized in one sentence. “He’s the guy who ____.” It might not be what we’re proudest of, or what we spend most of our life focusing on. It might just be one especially memorable act, either of generosity, hilarity, or cruelty. It may be false, or confused. You may be “remembered” for something the other grandfather did. In any case, everything else we do, as far as this memory goes, vanishes into the long tail of our lives.

You may argue that with our blog posts and our e-mails and our videos, we’re all leaving a much livelier record than those diary-scribbling great-grandparents of ours. Maybe that’s true. Maybe in the year 2107, someone will be poring over all this stuff we’re producing (if it works with their machines). But I’m betting they’ll be busy with the media of their own times.

Most of the meaning and substance of our lives will disappear into these forgotten long tails. The help we give to others, whether they’re lessons, cures or opportunities, can affect an entire family tree. But what people will remember, at least for a generation or two, will be something silly we said or some extravagant gesture.

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