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In which John looks at the one photograph of his 23-year-old self, considers what to keep from life, and wonders what (if anything) from nerdfighteria should be professionally archived. Also considered: Whether there will be humans for much longer, digitial archiving efforts, and what pictures do.

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Good morning, Hank, it's Tuesday.  So I only have one picture of myself from the age of 23.  This is the only photographic evidence I have of the year I spent in Chicago in an intense and loving but doomed relationship, the year I started and re-started the book that became Looking for Alaska, and also the year when, to borrow a line from Emily Dickinson, a plank in reason broke and I dropped down and down.  You know what, I'm assigning feelings to that picture that aren't really in it, because I was quite happy when that photograph was taken, but anyway, I was thinking about it recently because for the past decade or so, my like has been, you know, significantly better photographed.  Like, I have hundreds of pictures of myself at 39 and between Sarah and me, we've taken over 1,000 pictures of our kids this year.  Which is great, but I feel like we citizens of the internet are in general better at creating stuff than we are at preserving, curating, and archiving it.  So I wonder how many of our pictures will still be around in 15 years.

Like, it's often posited that when archaeologists of the distant future look at our period of human history, they'll be like, abundance increased dramatically in the 19th and 20th centuries, and then people started building fewer amazing churches and instead they began to worship screens, and since they'll have no idea what was inside of those screens and the data will be corroded, the people of the future will know about Wikipedia only because of like, the printed books that mentioned it.  Which is an interesting idea, but I have a couple problems with it.  First, it assumes that in the distant future, there will be people.  Secondly, it ignores the many archivists who are working very hard to ensure that some slice of digital life is preserved for future historians.  

In fact, that's why I started thinking about this in the first place.  An academic library recently got in touch with us about preserving some stuff from Brotherhood 2.0 and Nerdfighteria.  Now, of course, it would be nice to have more than one picture of myself from when I was 23, but we don't wanna archive everything forever, right?  I mean, for one thing, there is no forever, but also like, I'm grateful that I have one picture of my great-grandmother, I'm not sure I'd need 17,000 of them.  

Also, if we start to feel like life isn't really real unless or if it's photographed, we risk undervaluing all the really important parts of life that aren't very photogenic.  You know, like, grief.  But just to be clear, I am not one of those old people who thinks it's bad news that young people are taking so many pictures.  

These days, photographs aren't just a way of remembering, they're a way of having a conversation, with yourself and others.  My concern is only that in constantly creating new things, we risk forgetting about the old things that might someday be useful to us.  Like, there were once more photos of me at 23.  For instance, there were some on Friendster, a now defunct social networking site, but those pictures died with Friendster.

Now Facebook and Instagram will likely be around for decades, if not centuries, and lots of us are backing up our poems and artwork and photographs to the cloud, but when I get to the internet archive and go back even a few years to see what Nerdfighteria used to look like, there are already holes.  I can see what the Vlogbrothers channel looked like at the end of 2007, that we'd made 237 videos and had 9,000 subscribers, or I can see what the page looked like in July of 2009 when we had 90,000 subscribers, but a lot is already gone.  The comment that started the evil baby orphanage is gone.  Lots of the early nerdfighter artwork is gone.  Sites are shuttered.  Links are dead.  

Now, I don't want Nerdfighteria to be a backwards facing community, and I don't labor under the delusion that our little corner of the internet will be significant to scholars, but it's significant to me, and since that library e-mailed, I've been thinking about what to archive and how to archive it, and so I thought I would ask you, whether you've been around for a long time or you're new in town, when you think of Vlogbrothers and Nerdfighteria, what do you think of?  What, if anything, should be archived, and do you have copies of it, because I might not.  

Also, a little piece of advice, if you're 23 or even if you're not, take a bunch of pictures of yourself this year.  Save 'em to the cloud, but then also maybe print some of them out, just in case the physical things end up being the ones that last.  

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.