old sermons as cyber vampires: thoughts on the ‘long tail’ and cybertrash recycling on iTunes

One of the realities of the cyberage is the fact that what we write online stains cyberspace forever and, in the words of those great sages of AAA format FM in the 1970’s, Chicago, on track 2 of ‘Chicago 18’ entitled ‘Forever’ – “forever is a long, long time.” Their is a collective myth among the cyberfiends of this age that, akin to Las Vegas, what is deleted on the web, stays deleted on the web. Not true. Storehouses of cybertrash populate the servers across this land with electronic signatures that can be awakened with a mere flick of the switch. This is not only in relation to blogs such as this one, but sound files such as Mp3’s and video feeds long though of as going the way of the dinosaur find themselves alive again on the web in the strangest places.

Case in point: from 1992 to 1998 I worked in Campus Ministries and had occasion to teach and preach for different functions at the university that I worked for. These events were often taped on cassette tapes in the event that students would need to listen to them as part of either their chapel requirements or for a class. I left the university to go on to do my graduate school in Scotland and was gone for 6 years. Upon returning to the University in a faculty position, I had come to discover that these archive recordings, something I assumed had turned to dust in a cardboard box, had been made into digital recordings and now available for anyone to download via iTunes! Imagine my shock to hear students had not only downloaded these very old sermons and lectures, but had passed them on to others.

Chris Anderson, in an article in Wired Magazine that later become a book, coined the phrase “the long tail” which asserts that the web has kept alive a lot of content that would have died ages ago – these staggering cyber zombies of old sermons and lectures from a cassette tape era are given a new life as digital vampires waiting to populate an iPod near you! it is a strange thing to listen to a long dead version of yourself speak with passion about ideas and references that no longer energize nor concern my current faith orbit. Additionally, hearing rather confessional declarations born in a time of pain that is made current with digital clarity reminds me that I can no longer assume distance from my past selves nor the questions they have asked me. Augustine in Confessions states rather clearly in Book X that our lives are only memory in the end – a constant retrieval of the past in order to order the future. Perhaps I just need to get over it and welcome the companionship of the ancient selves who have visit me online from time to time. Hmmm… perhaps I am beginning to understand something of Scrooge’s dread in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol… Maybe Tiny Tim was listening to his iPod there in the corner by the fire…

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