My father passed away a little more than a year ago, but through the internet he still lives on. I missed him this morning, probably because of some of the environmental stories I was reading (he was a huge environmental and rights activist) and decided to look him up.
The first page I found when I Googled his name was his obituary which was, as it always is, a tough read. "Tim Wees packed much into his 64 years of life", it starts and the tears start to flow. It is a bit morbid to read an obituary, but I don’t read it because it reminds me of his death, but more because it reminds me of all he accomplished in life. I tried and imagine what it would be like before the internet, when I would have had to keep an album of newspaper clippings and photos, and one of these pages might have been his obituary if I was lucky. Today, I can look it up online whenever I want a reminder.
Next stop is his website, timwees.com, which I am paying to keep up. No changes happening here, but anytime I want to read something my father wrote, or listen to the sound of his voice, I can. One of my favourite pieces of his is about Canada, a kind of montage of interesting things to see and remember about our country. He had put up all of his writing online mostly because he really wanted to share his work. Contradicting his desire to share his work, he carefully wrapped all of his text up in the proprietary PDF format, locking up his work from being changed ever.
One of his pieces of work is still being discussed on the internet. In the early 90s, my dad lived on the street, and collected some stories of street children. His work, No Where Was Home was written from the heart. I wonder now what has happened to those children, but from a discussion I found on Facebook, it looks like they are still connected to each other and discussing his work. Pieces like his are a record of the parts of our country which are rarely discussed in as much detail on the nightly news. They are important, and I’m proud of him for having written it.
I can find comments my dad wrote on other people’s stories, and find stories which quote him. There are hundreds of pages on dozens of websites that my dad contributed to, and I haven’t read all of them. Still it is an interesting archive of his thoughts and opinions.
One thing I cannot find of my dad is many pictures of him. I have a few that I’ve found, but my father was behind the lens of the camera too often for me to find photos of him. Here’s one that I like, which I found after much digging through his website. Once this particular post I’ve written is indexed by Google, this photo below will show up when I search for my dad.
Tim Wees and my son Athanasios (April 2007)
The digital record we leave behind on the internet keeps us alive in a way not possible in previous generations. It is not hard to take an ordinary person’s life, and if they had any presence on the internet in life, find them "present" virtually on the internet. The current generation of children will grow up in a world where finding a Youtube video of their parents online is straight forward. They will be able to interact with their parents after they die in ways which are profoundly different than any other previous generation. Instead of having to rely on carefully guarded (and easily lost) family archives of old family photos and movies, they will be able to Google their parents anytime they like, even after their parents’ deaths.