Picture the scene

It’s early 1990s, and a teenage boy has grown up listening to his father’s record collection. Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Deep Purple, Wishbone Ash, to name just a few. His father plays his collection almost every weekend. But the boy doesn’t care for that – he’s too busy listening to the Prodigy and Jungle, because it’s all the rage and all the kids at school are listening to it. That other stuff sounds so old and rubbish in comparison.

He also occasionally delves into his father’s book collection that sits on shelves – an interesting mixture of Readers Digest books, fiction and reference material, but at his age he doesn’t fully comprehend everything it contains. Still, perhaps he’ll learn to appreciate it as he gets older. Perhaps the son will inherit some of his father’s interests and tastes, and perhaps they will bond over them and have many a discussion in the years to come.

They chat about family while looking at old photos of grandparents, great uncles and aunts and cousins that the boy has never met. But it doesn’t matter – the faces are captured in those moments of years gone by, to accompany the fascinating stories of exploits and capers that ensued, not to mention a few albums and books that were originally owned by the boy’s grandfather, before the father inherited them.

But then just as things are getting to a point where the boy is starting to become a man, where life is about to change rapidly with GCSEs, college, girls, and more, the father dies.

And it hurts. It hurts to the point where the boy comes close to losing focus and throwing things away. He feels life is unfair. It would be easy for any boy in this situation to go off the straight and narrow, to use the lack of guidance from a father figure as an excuse to run amok, but he has learned enough from his parents to know that this would be wrong. Still, it takes a while for the boy to really appreciate just how lucky he is. Perhaps it begins with a realisation that the music his father introduced him to was actually pretty damn good. Then he realises that his father taught him some useful life skills like map reading and a desire to question and learn about things, to think about things logically.

To top it off, he’s also begun to enjoy the same interests his father had – Star Trek, writing and walking. Then he grows up a bit more and has children of his own. Now he realises that the discipline he received was actually a good thing, despite the impetuous “I Hate you!”‘s that would normally be shouted at his parents whenever they discipline him. It turns out his father was a pretty good role model for a new father.

He now realises the importance of the years he did have with his father, and the legacy that the father gave to him: The record collection, the books, the photos, the talks they had, certain character traits that the son inherited from his father through nature and nurture. The realisation that he is becoming more like his own father every year as he watches his own children grow up.

But then another realisation dawns – His only experience of his father’s character was how he interacted with him as a boy, rather than how one man might talk to another man. Regretfully there’s not much he can do about that, other than wonder what his father might now make of the internet, the information, the music and the opportunities it can bring, but at least he has the memories and the collections to look back on and remind him of his father.

If you hadn’t guessed already, that boy is me, and not a day goes past now without me being thankful for the time and memories I was able to take from the 14 years that I knew my father. I will always wish I knew him longer, but I know there are many others less fortunate.

Now picture a new, modern scene

It’s late 2010s, and a teenage boy has grown up listening to his father’s mp3 collection, the likes of Ben Folds, Plan B, Prodigy (some things do actually stand the test of time!), Deadmau5, and of course Led Zeppelin. He listens to his father playing music almost every night and at weekends. A different album every day, because Spotify makes it so easy to listen to whatever takes your fancy. But the boy doesn’t care for that – he’s too busy listening to the Pop tunes on the radio, because it’s all the rage, and all the kids at school are listening to it. That other stuff sounds old and rubbish in comparison.

He doesn’t delve into his father’s book collection, because there isn’t one. In fact, what are books? Are they like those Kindle things? And what of his father’s interests and hobbies? Well, he think it’s something to do with computers, but he doesn’t really know, perhaps he just likes to use Facebook, iPlayer, Youtube and all those other sites that adults tend to visit a lot.

Then there’s the chats about family members that the boy has never met. But he doesn’t really care, because he doesn’t even know what they look like: his father accidentally lost all the family photos in a hard drive crash, so can’t be all that important.

But perhaps it doesn’t really matter, because the father will always be there to answer any questions the boy has.

But then the father dies suddenly, and it hurts. Life is unfair, but life carries on. He doesn’t think much about it at the time – there’s so much for him to look forward to. He grows up, finishes college, meets a girl and settles down. Then he has children and everything changes. As he thinks about himself as a father, he begins to think about his own father. Then his own children grow up, and they start asking questions like “What was granddad like?”

But the young father can’t answer because he doesn’t remember, and there is no music, book or photo collection to jog his memory, or to show his own children. It doesn’t exist. There are no heirlooms, and just some fading incomplete memories are all that prevents the father and his children from becoming separated from their ancestors.

This is the reality of a future that is fast becoming the present, for this generation and the next. Do what you can to preserve your family’s history and legacy. Photos, music, words, stories, start collecting them now, before it’s too late, as some people are already discovering.

3 thoughts to “Don’t lose your children’s legacy in the digital age

  • Steve

    What a great piece and its all so true as people rush on with digitizing their lives without considering the long term consequences, all of the memories will be lost in cyber-space – Some companies are all ready thinking on this subject and have put concepts in place. http://www.cirruslegacy.com is one that’s out there

    • Andrew

      As you say, there are a few companies out there that are aiming to help users in this regard. I was actually thinking about how I might achieve something myself with a little bit of technical knowledge, and existing free services, perhaps by syncing a folder through multiple cloud services like Dropbox and Sugarsync and other providers as they come online. This post suggests it could work, distributing the collection across multiple cloud servers, ensuring that your eggs aren’t all in one basket, but cloned into multiple baskets. But the main stumbling block still appears to be the legal implications of wanting to back up copyrighted materials like music and books. This has to be resolved ASAP, whatever solution one chooses to store their legacy. I’d assume these businesses involved in offering such services would be aiming to solve the legal implications of DRM and ownership as quickly as possible as it will have a huge impact on their business model, and the legitimacy of the service they supposedly offer.

      For my own solution, I was thinking of some sort of structured file system with folders. Perhaps yearly folders so that I could categorise files by year, plus top level folders for content that is not fixed to any year. But I quickly realised this is the wrong approach. Really you need a database driven repository that allows a user to tag and categorise content by date, location, people, and key words, with a searchable system for finding content in the repository. I’ve not looked into Cirrus Legacy in any great detail, but I’d expect them or similar companies to offer this kind of service.

  • Pingback: Saying goodbye to childhood - I am Andrew Johns

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *