Wiped Out

TH_PaintedBackdrop.Recently, I had to have my computer’s hard drive wiped clean in order to recover some 13,000+ mysteriously missing photographs.

The Apple Genius assured me that wiping out everything and “manually reloading everything” from a previous back-up was “no big deal.”

He showed me a “Migration Assistant” app that would restore all my photos (a total of about 18,500+ at this point), all my folders, all my documents–everything.macbook-pro-15-inch-2013

After asking me twice if I understood that he was, “trust me, this isn’t my first rodeo,” wiping out my hard drive, he pushed some buttons and everything on my computer screen started disappearing. It didn’t take long to get rid of my research on creativity, all my grad school writing, financial information, years of training routines and expensive Egoscue posture exercises, 5,400+ photos that had lingered on, the screensaver photo of my beautiful, now deceased cat, Hope…

File folders of data flew up across the screen with grace and nonchalance as they were sucked off my Macbook. Beneath the chatter of the Genius, were muffled whooshing sounds each time one of the folders disappeared. The absence of a dramatic soundtrack during the eradication of “me” was disconcerting.

IMG_4161The Genius packed my computer up, shook my hand, and said it was his pleasure to have taken care of my hard drive issues.  I staggered out into the light and cacophony of the shopping mall and forgot where I’d parked.  All I knew was that I had to get home and reconnect the external hard drive I had neglected to take to the Apple Store. Surely in there was my brain, my talent, my past, my brilliance (if there ever was any), my mother, my sense of self, and Hope. I had to make everything whole again.

After the external drive was reconnected, I began to wait. The progress bar expanded and contracted during two and a half days of excruciating waiting, praying, worrying that I might not be able to recover anything. Everything.

I tried to mentally catalog everything that might be lost forever. If my photos were all gone, I knew I’d never again be able to take a photo of my mother. And those missing stories I wrote when teachers and others said I was so talented… If the stories were gone, I knew I’d never again be as witty as I was back in the day.

The records from my horrible divorce would be gone–not that I ever wanted to read them again, but still, they had be records of something that really happened. And if the records were lost, it would be like the relationship never happened.

But as the hours ticked by, I realized that I was most upset about losing my identity–my online identity. Not my offline self, but my online identity: the accretion of interactions on social media, the manipulated images of myself, and the conversational relationship I have with this blog.

“… online activities are no longer separable from our real lives,
but an integral part of it. Social networking changed the role of the internet.
On more and more sites, a person’s offline identity is connected
to their online actions…

— Erika Ferrugia, University of Malta

I had a career working online for over 20 years, and over the last decade or so I’ve developed a pretty rich, vibrant online identity on Facebook, and through this blog. Before the hard drive wipe-out, I hadn’t thought about how much of “me” was virtual, expressed in 1’s and 0’s. Now that there was a chance my online identity was not going to be recovered, I wondered who I might be if I lost everything on my hard drive.

I know that as I’ve aged in the real world, I’ve become invisible–all old ladies do. And because I no longer work 9-5, I’ve unconsciously withdrawn some of my attention to the real world. No longer around people as often as when I worked full-time, my conversations are now mostly with myself and worked out online.

But this is not a tale of woe! Quite the opposite! Understanding how much of me has become an online identity–even if it might be lost–was very reassuring because I built the online identity myself–and I could do it again.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
— George Bernard Shaw

In thinking of how much I identify with that online self, I have to acknowledge that the trade of my aged offline identity for my online, curated, filtered, animated identity has been a GOOD one for me. I’m never bored with the Internet as a companion. Ideas come quite fluidly, bouncing back and forth from the Internet and me, and are balanced with the real life making of things: painting, taking photos, knitting, baking, gardening, etc.

IMG_6313And I’m no longer an invisible old person when I’m online! I’ve made my online self look like I want to believe I would look if I were put through the Way Back Machine: confident, knowing, a kind of cool that I’m not in real life. Gone are the wrinkles gained through experience, laughter, grief, sunshine and weather. Gray hair that may have escaped the dye is turned to gorgeous gold, or brooding black with filters. I made that online self look that way, so if she’s lost, I can make her again!

So this tale ends happily, with the restoration from the external hard drive of all the documents, the folders, the playlists, the photos, and the witty stories. Plus a newfound sense of the online ME: Malleable, ever adjustable, growing younger, more distinct, and more visible with every keystroke.

I’ve come to think of the terra-byte external hard drive as an ETERNAL hard drive. It has greatly enhanced my confidence in the possibility of a recoverable, multidimensional life.

“While we can share more of ourselves online than ever previously possible, we choose not to. Instead, we curate.”–Kaitlyn Guay


[For more about my self-portraits and personas, read this blog post, About Face]

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