Highlights of the week

The posts I highlight this week consider the big picture: our mortality. Before I list those, I want to collect and share a few ideas I’ve been kicking around about this admittedly heavy topic, especially in terms of what I study: writing, media, and archives.

Content warning: this might be a bit of a dark read for some. Apologies in advance if this brings you down.

As you know by now, one of my goals in this unit has been to provide incentive for you to use writing as a creative outlet; after all, that’s why you’re a Writing Arts student. But another motive is to ask you to document this historical moment, as painful as it may be. As a scholar interested in history, publics, and publishing, I think a lot about how we keep track of and preserve these moments for future readers and scholars.

That’s why I was so interested in “The race to save the first draft of coronavirus history from internet oblivion,” published this week on MIT Technology Review. In this article, Abby Ohlheiser and Tanya Basuarchive explore the plethora of responses to the novel coronavirus that have circulated online — but they also question how those responses will survive future iterations of the internet.

The article starts by sharing the case of The Isolation Journals, a email list of sorts, run by Suleika Jaouad, offering free daily prompts from famous writers and artists like Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) and gospel-blues singer Mavis Staples (you can see the prompts here). The project has produced lots of wonderful work shared on social media. However, this raises the authors’ central point: unless we consider ways of preserving and archiving responses to projects like The Isolation Journals, we’ll be at the “mercy of a constantly shifting internet, where even recent history has a tendency to get buried or vanish.”

Such preservation can and should be a public process, but it can also be very personal one, dependent upon which version of the internet you encounter at that point in your life. For example, at the end of article the authors point out that Tumblr is witnessing the most traffic its seen in years thanks to college students going back to revisit a safer more secure version of themselves on the internet.

Let me give you another example of such potential erasure, based in my own experience. In the fall of 2007, before most social media and three months before the first iPhone was available, my sister died unexpectedly. While this was before Facebook was popularized, she had a MySpace that I now only exists as scattered files on my computer. Like so:

Her legacy lives on in other ways, but there is very little digital evidence of her life online. Eight years later, my mom also died unexpectedly and her Facebook account serves as a memorial (that is, for now). After both died, so many friends and family members used the web to grieve, either on obituary pages or on Facebook. They posted or commented on pictures, shared stories, and even wrote to the deceased directly and publically through these platforms. So of them are still available online and some (like MySpace) have been lost.

This coincides with another piece I read recently, “Love, Loss, and Archives,” which captures the importance of these digital traces in the afterlife. In the essay, Paul Linder explains how he used the Internet Archive to put together a memorial site for his late wife, Julie. As he argues at the end, “archives become much more than just data. They allow us to witness, corroborate and remember what happened with an accuracy no human could ever achieve.” In the article Paul discusses other interesting entanglements of digital life, including other people who once had the same domain name as his wife’s current memorial.

WordPress has been around a long time, but it will not last forever. Our BlackBoard course is private and will likely be erased shortly after it concludes. As you begin to wrap up your blogging experiences next week, I wonder if you might dedicate some time to thinking about how these digital spaces might be preserved for the future — whether for historians who study personal responses to the pandemic, or simply for your own family and your own legacy.



Nick: Hello everyone. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about my academic/professional future, as this is my last semester at Rowan. I know some people are very bummed out by the decision not to have a graduation ceremony, and the prospect of entering a job market where non-essential businesses are closed is daunting to say the least. To those of you wrapping up your time in college, how are you approaching these issues? Are you planning a makeshift graduation with family? Have you started job hunting, and if so, what has your experience been with it? Has it been difficult to find things in your field? Are you looking for anything that will hire? Have you encountered any remote jobs that seem appealing?

Eva: During this quarantine time, my family and I have caught up on a few shows we were behind on and also watched some movies. We finished the season of Project Blue Book- an awesome show on the History Channel that talks about the possibility of extraterestrial encounters and the government hiding those encounters; a really good show. We also caught up on Shits Creek, a great laugh if you like to watch comedy! Some movies we tuned in were Bad Mom’s 2, and some oldies but goodies- Sweet Home Alabama, Back to the Future 2, and Coming to America. Viewing TV shows or movies has helped us to step away from the chaos and ponder on something else or just have a good laugh! Have any of you been watching any shows or viewing any movies? If so, which ones? Have they helped break up the monotony for you? A stress reliever? In your writing, provide images of movie or show covers so your readers can see what ones your speaking of.

Christina. With all of this change it seems as though Americans are starting to have a different perspective on life. For the first time since World War II, Americans have experienced widespread uncertainty, rations, food and medical shortages and much more. In a time where so many people hate each other and are divided over political issues, it seems like we may be starting to put all that aside and are learning to work together. How do you think this pandemic is shaping humanity? Do you think you will be more grateful for what you have after this pandemic is over? How has your perspective of American Instant Gratification changed throughout this situation?