They say what you post will last forever, but it’s not true: the internet is not permanent.
It’s weird when I think back to the fact that a large portion of my youth has been erased. Only scattered archive.org snapshots and faded memories remain.
Well, I understand that for generations past, this is pretty normal stuff. You grow up. Your life changes. Then there isn’t much frame of reference for your younger years except when you meet people who lived it too. But it’s all the opposite of what they said back when the internet age first started: everything you posted was supposed to be an everlasting marker that you’d live to regret.
We’ve already seen Millennial politicians like Jon Ossoff and Beto O’Rourke have their youths exposed on the campaign trail thanks to the internet, so the maxim seems to prove true as long as there’s paid sleuths out there on the trail. But for everyone else? It’s not so easy, and depending on where you frequented your time as a kid, it could be next to impossible. As for me…
The Internet is Not Permanent
I’ve spent so much of my time on internet forums that I can’t count the number of posts I’ve made over the past fifteen years on the internet. Even now, where forums are a relic of the past, if a website has a forum, I tend to end up browsing idly. It’s a curse.
It’s also the main culprit behind my teenage years fading into the ether.
The Nintendo City forums were my home base for the internet, the main site I used every single day for all of middle school and half of high school. Fifteen thousand posts or more… and then in 2011 it was shut down, never to reemerge.
I also used a site called Megabots.net with an internet friend called Gamemanner1234 or something like that. It was a replacement for Nintendo City due to forum drama, and also hosted fun webcomics. The site went down around 2009 or 2010 and I have not a clue where anyone from that site went. Every other Nintendo City-adjacent site disappeared, as well.
As you may know, I was a prolific sprite comic maker when I was in middle and high school. But you probably don’t know that I lost basically everything after two hard drive crashes, one in 2008 and another in 2013. The CDs and floppy drives (seriously) where I had stuff backed up did not prove enough, so most of my work is lost… except what’s already posted to the internet. But image hosting sites are slowly dying, too. Tinypic was deleted. Photobucket is a husk of a website, and Smackjeeves, where most of my remaining comics are hosted, is teetering on the edge.
That’s just my early teenage years, though.
I eventually found my way into the Homestuck fandom, where the forums were the central hub of activity for all fans. That one got taken down in 2016 after a big hack. It’s better preserved than the others, but I can’t imagine it’s got most of the thousands of posts I made in my years there.
Even my very odd usage of Miiverse as a bored college student is gone now except for archive websites. And holy crap, Nintendo is the king of destroying stuff I liked when I was young— The Wii, Wii U, and 3DS have had almost all their online services shut down, never to return. (RIP Swapnote.)
Newgrounds still exists, but Flash support is ending on most browsers soon. Most of the movies and games I enjoyed will no longer exist in their original form (until there is a Flash emulator, I guess). My favorite Youtube Poops and romantic anime AMVs were all erased from Youtube after the copyright overlords took over.
Basically every forum I used, every flash game I played, every image I hosted, is gone now, or soon will be.
It’a probably okay, but it hurts me as an obsessive archivist to see so much of my past erased, even if a lot of it is cringe-worthy teenage histrionics. Milennials were the first generation to have the majority of their life on the internet. And thus, the first generation to see their cultural memories simply wiped out unexpectedly.
Sure, we have more records of our past than ever before. Past generations will surely be jealous of all that. But our media is gone.
Unlike my teenage years of the late 00s and early 10s, my early childhood is mostly intact. All the Nintendo 64 games and VHS tapes are still around. Even the absolute most obscure failed cartoon pilot can be easily viewed on Youtube today. I can still read the books I liked just like any other moment.
There’s tons of lost media from the 90s and even more in the 80s, 70s, and beyond, but it feels like so much of what I experienced as a child has been very well-preserved.
But as far as my teenage years go, there’s massive gaps that may never be recovered.
So far I feel like people who have grown up since the advent of social media may not be facing this just yet. Social media like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram have all kept their archives strong for well over a decade with no sign of massive data losses to come. But as with everything on the internet, I can’t imagine that lasting forever. Because nothing is as permanent as it seems on the world wide web.