I’m at the lovely Banff Centre for the biennial conference of the International Auto/Biography Association. My room, on the sixth floor of Lloyd Hall, looks out onto the mountains. It is, in the most literal sense, a room with a view. It’s raining and the smell of coniferous trees is incredible (and no, pinesol is no substitute…). And, in a few short hours, I’ll be immersed in discussions about autobiography in its many forms – as genre, theory, and practice.How fitting, then, that Carolyn Herbst Lewis would choose today to post a piece about our personal archiving practices:
This semester, I taught an introductory-level course on historical methods. One of our tasks was to consider an array of historical materials. We read novels and memoirs; watched documentaries and Hollywood films; read speeches and government policies; looked at architectural plans and advertisements for suburban homes. We even watched an episode of Star Trek. Throughout this exploration, we kept coming back to the question of how people of the past documented their daily lives. This prompted us to consider how historians of the future will examine our everyday lives. What sources will they use? What sources are we leaving behind? This was a frightening discussion because somehow we always came back to social media. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. The students and I shuddered in horror when we considered not just what historians of the future will think of us and our society, but also what we ourselves might see should we be the historians doing that research. I asked my students what I might think about their lives if I could see their Snapchat accounts. Some of them looked like they were going to cry. I felt the same when I imagined them looking at my Facebook timeline.
What pieces of ourselves will we leave to future historians, writers, family members? Will they see only the carefully-curated selves we post on social media sites? Or will we let them into the messiness of our everyday lives: the dishes we didn’t get to, the letter we forgot to write, the dust bunnies behind the stove, the dirty underwear draped onto the chess trophy?
My room has a view. But which view will I share with you? Today’s rainy, foggy view? Or tomorrow’s forecasted sunny view? The view with the bed made and everything in place, as I arrived yesterday? Or today’s cluttered space?