How the Internet makes you immortal

When I first began writing a column about my family life in the Melbourne Age in 1992, there was no such thing as the Internet.

In those days, today’s news was tomorrow’s fish and chips.

The story was “clipped” for the library, and pasted on white A4 sheets and filed in grey filing cabinets by author or subject in the newspaper library.

A copy of the paper was also sent to the State Library of Victoria, which filed everything.

You might have saved a copy in your own scrapbook, or perhaps your mother might have stuck a copy on the fridge or sent it in a letter to a friend.

If you were lucky, a reader might have taken the time and trouble to write to you.

But that was it.  End of story.

Now, when I Google my name I find that thanks to the Internet, I am immortal.

Things I wrote on a whim 10 or 20 years ago now appear on websites I’ve never heard of, gratis – or pop up somewhere completely out of context.

My children have grown up but they live on as precocious toddlers in the columns I wrote for The Age or  for the ABC’s Life Matters program – just like Christopher Robin in Now We are Six. The real life Christopher Robin outgrew Winnie the Pooh, but in the public’s mind he was still only six years old.

This is strangely disconcerting – and embarrassing.

Take today, for example. A quick search reveals that a cartoon of mine about mid-life crisis, which was drawn about 12 years ago for the Alternative Law Journal, was recently revived as a tweet; that plays I reviewed in 1994 for The Age now appear as citations on; that a book on breastfeeding I edited for the Nursing Mothers Association of Australia (now the Australian Breastfeeding Association) almost 20 years ago in is available second- hand on Amazon in the UK, and a blog post I wrote in April I on spelling reform is now a link on a UK literacy website called Mantex.

And on the Kingston Council website, there’s even a story I wrote for the local newspaper in 1977!

In some ways, this is less surprising than seeing the email I wrote to a colleague in a small Singaporean writers’ group – which I had thought was viewable by members only – popping up for public view on a Google search.

It is a small consolation that the fact that I wrote about myself means that there’s less chance of inaccuracy – although more chance of exaggeration.

Having being naïve about this in the past, I guess the best way to deal with it in the future is to just shut up.

So, if you find a sudden silence about personal matters here, that’s why.

I’m not the only one who is uncomfortable about this.

There is now a growing awareness about the implications of such personal information being out there for anyone to see – forever.

But most of the people who are concerned about this didn’t put the information out there themselves. It was gathered by governments and other organizations when they unwittingly or deliberately filled out forms.

We compulsive communicators only have ourselves to blame.

Immortality for me and Agnes: Fast forward to the current world of Instagram, Facebook and the like and the thousands of kids who have no say in what their parents post about them. These pictures will live on. These children will grow up. Be warned.