Our own history: What do we leave behind?

Stephen Baker

Turns out that I inherited my father's photographic slides, shoe boxes jammed with tiny images of Egypt, Russia, Japan. If the box says 1972, it must be Alaska. I take a box or two to the coffee shop every morning. And while my wife reads the paper, I jam the slides into a handheld viewer, looking for signs of a life that's now gone.

This has me thinking about the artifacts that we leave behind. When I look at the slides, I'm hungrily searching for people. Don't take another picture of the Eiffel Tower! I find myself telling my dad. Focus the camera on mom, on my sisters, on the 12-year-old ME! People are interesting, especially family and friends. Thousands of people could have taken that same shot of the Great Pyramid. In fact, thousands did. I can see them whenever I want on Flickr.

Same goes for journals. I have pages and pages of what he learned about the history of the Red Square or a Hindu temple. I read them looking for glimmers of his life. But this is the schoolboy writing. His teachers probably discouraged him from putting himself into the reporting, so he holds back. I'd trade 10 pages of dutiful travelogue for his recollection of the breakfast conversation that distant morning, as he and mother read the International Herald-Tribune and dipped croissants into cafe au lait.

Then there's the technology. I think we can assume that whatever technology we're using, whether it's a slide projector or a Wiki, will lead to aggravations for future generations who may be interested in our lives. This goes against everything I've been doing since the dawn of the Internet age, but I have a feeling that shoe boxes full of (carefully selected) print outs and photos have the best chance of reaching those great grandchildren in 2120.