Who Were You?


A year or so ago, I read a book about the collapse of civilizations, and how some just vanished without a trace.  It puzzled me how that could happen among civilizations that were very advanced for their time.  As the peak oil discourse became more widespread, I began to see how that could happen even to us as a society today.  Then I realized it is happening to us individually even today, and we aren’t even aware of it.

I have in one closet or other old photo albums of my grandparents, parents or our own, some with pictures dating back to the late 1800s, of various relatives that have long since departed this life, as well as pictures of my youth and my wife, son, and grandchildren.  Then 10 years ago, technology started changing the way we captured and stored these photos, not as images on paper in albums, but as digital images on hard drives or cds.

One of the aspects of the decline of the oil age that I have not seen addressed is that over the last 5 years or so, we have seen a great move away from hard copy anything; pictures, books, magazines, and even newspapers.  As the decline begins to happen, we will see a sharp decline in imports of non-essential goods, including PCs, IPads, e-readers, and other useful devices.  Even if such a decline wasn’t in the cards, the changing technology may render any stored information about us useless.  What if all your family photos were on 5 ¼ floppy disks right now?  For all practical purposes they would be lost.  Yet 15 years ago, that was a stable and common medium for data storage.  If we begin to see a decrease in availability of equipment to read and display our stored data, it will be like we are slowly vanishing.

We have taken for granted that the information age will survive long into the decline of the oil age.  I don’t think that will be the case.  The economy will decline with the energy shrinkage.  The internet doesn’t just exist because it is useful, it exists because it makes money… lots of it.  As the economies around the world shrink, there will be less and less discretionary funds to pay for internet access, less subscribers means less revenue for companies and service providers.  Coupled with the fact that most of our information access devices come from the other side of the world, their cost could soar as the energy to get them to our shores rises and becomes less available.  We have no assurance that 15 years from now access to electronic stored information will be available to any of us.

Are you catching my drift?  If all of the personal information about us becomes mostly electronic, then it is subject to being inaccessible if the power is out, if the PCs aren’t available, if the technology has had to change drastically because of declining energy inputs to develop and build it.  So what will your grandchildren or their children remember about you 20 years from now? ? ?  If you are still living, then you can pass along some of what you know and have experienced.  If not, then they will have no idea of their heritage, of history before them, or even life as we live it today.

A question that nearly everyone asks at some point in time is “Who am I?”   Most of the time, the answer is tied with someone who existed before they were born.  If all our personal background and information becomes mostly electronic and it is unavailable, all they have left is information from those still living who knew us.  Eventually the ravages of time or death remove even that.  So the question becomes “Who were you?”  Even 300 years ago, one could find letters written between individuals to glean some idea of what the people were like.  When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone?

Is it important for you to leave something of yourself to your children’s children?  Only you can answer that.  Our heirs will experience a world so vastly different from ours, would it be helpful for them to understand how you felt about the changes ahead?  Would it be helpful for them to understand the problems and hardships you have faced and conquered in your life, so as to encourage them in theirs?  If you are leaving them Cds or DVDs of photos, video, writings, or other information, it might be useless just 20 years from now.  I think it is important for everyone to leave some written historical record of themselves on hardcopy, with photos, for future generations to read.  In the Bible we find many references to the genealogy of one individual or another.  I believe that is because they realized many millennia ago that the question of “Who am I?” is deeply rooted in the question of “Who were you?”  How will you leave your response?