Permanently Impermanent

I’ve been doing some thinking lately on impermanence in a digital world. Permanence is often assumed despite the inherently impermanent nature of existence itself. Life is impermanent. Nothing that exists will exist forever. Why should our data be assumed to be any more so? Why do we treat it with such perpetuity? Does it in some way represent immortality? Do we take comfort in some potentially mis-applied idea that these things could outlast us and therefore will?

We would like to believe that that which we put up on the internet or save to the cloud is available forever. But how can we, who shall never see forever, possibly understand what forever is or agree on what it means? And what happens when we have the skill and the will to decide to erase our creations for that same forever — permanently?

We all now have access to tools that allow us to recover those things we delete — either through accident or purpose — for as far back as the backup storage space will allow. What then is to stop us from hitting delete instead of sorting it to some virtual folder and saving it? Why not let the clouds we are building do this for us? Why not erase these things with the knowledge that, in the rare times we might need them later we can get them back? Especially for those items we are not certain we will ever have to access again? Is it that despite our desire to have faith in digital permanence we, in fact, know the truth of all things in inherent impermanence?

I know people that have had a hard drive crash and lost everything because they had no backup. Years later, it happens again. I then inquire as to why they did not have a backup — especially after the lesson they should have learned the first time. The reason: Though the previous loss was painful at first, they rebuilt. They moved on. They survived. They saw no value in backup because they knew if the drive crashed they would rebuild, move on, and survive again.

I’d like to think that embracing such impermanence grants them a level of effortless peace. It gives them a certain confidence that their digital creations are not stronger than their ability to survive without them.

Perhaps it is this peace and confidence that fuels one to declare Status 410 and walk away. Knowing that what good you could do has been done — in a place, for a time. Now, it is gone. Life and all of it’s creations are permanently impermanent. When the permanence we and others have come to rely on suddenly reveals itself to be less so, we can only rebuild, move on, and survive.