Sonnet 55, by William Shakespeare
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword, nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death, and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.
Shakespeare was talking about the eternal life that his poetry would give to his subject. Through war, death, collapse, erosion, and decay, until the end of the world, the subject’s reputation will, he promises live on. The
irony funny thing (I try never to use the word “irony” if I can avoid it, because there are certain very strange people online who still think it’s their mission to be upset about the word choice in an Alanis Morissette song from nearly 20 years ago – seriously) – the funny thing is that we don’t know who the sonnets were dedicated to, so in one sense the plan didn’t quite work.
To me, being a literate human in today’s world and not having a digital footprint – whether you’re an educator or not, whether you’re an adult or not – would be like that – like writing 154 sonnets to a loved one and then never adding their name. We’re online. Everybody’s online. Unless you’ve printed this blog post out, we’re probably both online right now. What do we do online? We search for things. We search for people. We read about people. We remember people. We ourselves do it, the people who will hire us in the future do it, and kids do it too. So of course we should all try to cultivate or engender some kind of digital footprint, and a positive one to boot(print).
We live in a time when Shakespeare’s poetic musings on the immortality of text and literary fame are in some senses more true than ever. Libraries’ worth of biographical information is actually whizzing around our heads in the ether (or in a series of tubes? I’m not a scientist). Even dull or average individuals can now taste the immortality of fame online, and they don’t have to be the subject of a poem or wait until after they’re dead to do it (see Justin Bieber or Rebecca Black). (Note that I’m talking about “immortality” and “fame” online, but I really mean it more in the sense of “…during our lifetimes”. Nothing is creepier than the idea of a dead person’s Facebook page, except perhaps the idea of a dead pet’s Facebook page.)
We might not all currently face war, or crumbling statues, or the other scenarios in the sonnet, but there’s one thing mentioned in Line 9 that we all do face during our lifetimes: “oblivious enmity”. I’m not sure if that was meant in the sense of “being forgotten out of spite” or maybe something more like “blind hatred”, but either way, engaging in hobbies and creative activities online, making friends online, and having a positive presence there, pushes back against that oblivious enmity. We all enjoy being remembered and appreciated by others, and that’s not going to happen in quite the optimal way if you’re working anonymously or pseudonymously. Even the most technophobic and introverted person, no matter how cranky, enjoys making an online connection to other people, and even misanthropes like me should be able to see the advantages of having a positive online presence liked to your actual name.
So – I’m aware how hyperbolic this all sounds but I really do believe (most of) what I just said: a positive digital footprint really is one of our time’s best approximations of (contemporary) fame and immortality, a great path to personal improvement and our best shield against the sloshing tides of Haterade, and above all a rather simple way to ensure that we won’t fade into oblivion without anyone knowing our names.
Now how do I reconcile all this with the fact that I mostly use Facebook for… well, nothing, and Twitter mostly for retweeting jokes? There must be a sonnet for that… hm. I’ll get back to you.