What happens on the Internet stays forever on the Internet

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 14, 2018

Reg Harbeck relaxes with his favourite cat in pre-Internet days. Photo by Warren Harbeck

This is the second of two guest columns by our sons, Reg and James, which they’ve written as my Father’s Day treats. Last week’s featured James’s reflections on Bighill Creek. This week’s is by his older brother, Information Technology professional Reg Harbeck, of Fort Langley, B.C. Here’s my Father’s Day treat from Reg:

I AM SURROUNDED by wonderful people, and springtime is a wonderful time to celebrate them. My relationship with each of them forms part of my personal existence, and our memories together are a deep and lasting aspect of my life’s story. Indeed, once upon a time, unless I was in some way famous or noteworthy, their memories of me would be the most persistent detailed record of my existence beyond my personal presence.

Nor have any of these become less in the face of the Internet and social media – you might even say that they’ve been enhanced. However, such augmentation lacks a certain discretion that I used to be able to take for granted.

When I was young, I acted with youthful indiscretion, like most of us. Fortunately, the memories of those occasions are safely locked away in the minds of those who choose which details to share with care, based on the kind of sound judgment that comes, in part, from having made similar mistakes in their own lives.

Today, indiscretions still happen, but something has changed: with the Internet and pervasive social media, we have begun to share personal data about, and sometimes the very acts of, indiscretions that time used to cover and heal. We have entered the era when what is whispered in darkness is shouted from the rooftops – and continues to be shouted for the rest of our lives.

I’m not here to tell you that’s bad. In fact, if anything, it’s always been inevitable. The warnings that “the truth will out” have been spoken and written for as long as there have been writers, from the ancient sages and scriptures through recent authors such as Poe, on through the modern day. And now, the dimension of time in the realization of this prophecy has been removed.

Of course, this can be very embarrassing. Certain public figures have discovered that what happens in Vegas stays … on the Internet, seemingly forever! But, “the truth will set you free,” even if there is significant initial misery.

And that’s what I want you to take away from this column: we will wise up, and the World Wide Web will become a tool for this good, even though it will inevitably be dragged through all the various brokennesses and weaknesses of the human condition on the way – not to mention countless cat videos (and photos, such the one above from my pre-Internet days). But if this entails a cat as trophy, it will eventually become more of a catharsis, as experience leads, often painfully, to insight, wisdom, and maybe even beauty, truth and love.

No, it won’t be easy. But I think it will be worth it, beginning with new degrees of contact with the people I care most about. But, of course, also new levels of consequence for anything I choose to share – or anyone else shares about or with me. Because once something is on the Internet, you can reasonably expect that future generations will be able to find it out as easily as Googling it.

A PURRRRFECT FATHER’S DAY treat, Reg. Thanks. —Dad


© 2018 Reginald Harbeck

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