While searching for a family heirloom my mom came across her mom’s high school autograph book. Most of the inscriptions are from 1881 and in verse. It’s a beautifully tooled leather booklet. Gives the autographs some weight, some feeling. It was fun leafing through.
Most of the inscriptions are in verse. My mother tells me that her father and mother often traded poetic notes with each other and it looks like the practice was widespread, at least in this neck of the woods. While I’m sure many of the verses were used multiple times among many friends, each page provides a touch of personality — a small window into the lives of people I never knew. It felt very personal.
“My friends in my album I ask you to write,
but to tear out the leaves I deem impolite. A. Maiers”
Annie had a sense of humor. As did Jeannie:
Around went the album
To me it came,
For my contribution,
So here goes my name. ”
There are other inscriptions more personal and heartfelt, but unfortunately they are not in the mood to scan for now. They have faded and are difficult to read. But they are there. The afternoon was spent talking about memories with the autograph book and a few photos to inspire the conversation. I learned things I never knew about my grandmother.
Which got me to thinking about Facebook. Today’s version of the autograph album, a complete electronic rolodex of our network of acquaintances and friends.
- Spelling – optional.
- Punctuation and capitalization – optional.
- Thoughtfulness – optional.
- Even words – optional.
Now I’m a latecomer to Facebook. I actually joined to help my kid’s high school booster group manage publicity. But quickly I discovered some old, lost friends. Facebook is my living autograph book. A place where connections are made. But how long lasting are the memories here. Will great, great, grandchildren ever dig old Facebook files out of a trunk and feel connected to someone they hardly new?
It doesn’t feel that way.
And now there is a kerfuffle as Facebook works to generate revenue using the very contacts it helped me connect with. I don’t begrudge them the cash. They brought value by connecting me easily with old friends. But I’m a little irritated with their desire to track my steps through every website and web tool I visit. It’s as if they somehow believe that friends share every detail of their lives with no edits or consideration.
That’s not poetry. That’s personal spam.
The glimpse of life I gained through my grandmother’s high school autograph book reminds me of how at one time individuals were maybe a tad more thoughtful about how they wished to be remembered. Maybe even a bit more thoughtful about how they presented themselves. Could our ability to communicate easily be weakening the value we put on communication?
The ability to connect human beings together in memorable, long lasting ways is probably one of the most powerful selling points any business can hope to have. Facebook caught lightning in a bottle, but now seems ready to tip the balance from valued tool to overly greedy spy. MySpace went this route. Some are not amused. Taylor Davidson provides an interesting look at why we should care about the business model behind the services we use. Just because they are free doesn’t mean they are without cost.
Communication continues to evolve. From private letters on stationery to sentiment presented on greeting cards. From phone calls to email to texting.
As everything goes digital it would be a neat trick to find a way to return the private, personal, long-lasting feel of a letter (or autograph book) while maintaining the convenience of Web 2.0 interaction. Things are being lost in our digital age. A key aspect of looking for opportunity is to mine the past for value, not to recreate history, but discover ideas primed for updating.
Of course I doubt my grandmother ever gave a thought to the idea that her descendants would be leafing through her old autograph book. It was kept as a personal keepsake, her own memories. Which make it even more precious to us.
Solutions to the digital keepsake dilemma anyone? Let the competition begin.