I live in a land of ghosts. Of course, by thirty, we all do. The landscape is littered with the corpses of the relationships we didn’t nourish with the right kinds of water and food. And in some cases, those corpses represent relationships that were forgotten altogether–left in the sun to fend for themselves and ultimately wither in the heat.
This is why I prefer succulents. There is a cactus plant in my apartment that gets watered every once in a while. It doesn’t demand attention and it definitely doesn’t die just because it isn’t getting water every day.
Some people may say this is a weakness in me. In fact, people have said it. And recently. The ghosts of our past have funny and interesting ways of haunting us–especially in this much smaller and much more digital world. Maureen O’Connor argues that the social media generation never truly breaks up. We collect lives in a way that would be foreign to our parents and grandparents. We stockpile our casual hook-ups and long-term relationships on lists entitled “friends.”
And there is something in our make-up that drives a curiosity about those people whose lips we have long stopped being able to feel–even in memory. Faces become blurry and voices become distorted by memory, and for some reason, we decide it’s time to reach out. Certainly no one can hold on to a grudge for that long.
But the digital world that we live in gives anyone access to vast amounts of information about us. Some of us are more searchable than others. And anyone with an ounce of understanding of Google’s algorithm–which is the most basic of boolean logic–can find out any number of trivial details about a person. I’m guilty of it. I’m sure you are, too. It’s natural. I haven’t seen you in a while? I wonder how you are.
But all curiosity isn’t healthy. Some things are left in the past on purpose. We get a little fuzzy on the details as time goes on, and the next thing you know, we are opening the arc of the covenant only to have our faces melted off.
So–you get a little curious. You go digging through the vast archives of digital data and you assemble a narrative. The person in question has been out of your life for six months, or a year, or a decade, and you are able to figure out where all they’ve lived and the jobs they’ve had, and if you’re very savvy, you might put together some more minute details–relationships, and whatnot.
But the strength of the Internet is also its greatest weakness. There is nothing human in its archives. There are only letters made of zeroes and ones, only images made of pixels, only surface information. We all know that with social media we are able to control the narrative about ourselves. That’s revisionist history as autobiography. We control other aspects of our digital biographies less, but to assume that there exists a complete narrative of any person online is naive.
And to assume that any amount of information you are able to pull from those web searches gives you a full and comprehensive picture of the person you knew six months, or a year, or a decade ago, seems pretty short-sighted.
I live a pretty digital life. There is plenty to learn about me from the Internet. I have written extensively here and in other places. But even reading every word of everything I’ve ever written doesn’t give you jurisdiction over my real life.
So yeah–I live in a land of ghosts. Ex-whatevers roam the country-side–their spirits floating up from the bloated and decaying corpses of relationships I once valued. And I understand this one truth of our digital era–we are all always the haunted and the haunting.
Leave that shit in the past. When the ghosts come knocking, remind yourself that they don’t know you anymore. They aren’t Marley and you aren’t Scrooge. Real life is more dynamic and we are much more than the words people read about us and the memories that they use to connect the dots. Don’t give the ghosts the power they think they have.
Let them lie.