all things must pass

Hi tavqyrad! It’s been 3139 (wow, that’s a big number) days since you joined Xanga…

I’m getting ready to delete my Xanga account. Most of you probably don’t even know I ever had a Xanga account. Funny, but it’s true. I won’t link back to it, because the link will be dead before too long. There’s a Kickstarter going to to keep Xanga alive, but that should probably be called a Jumpstarter. There seem to be a few hundred people interested in paying money to keep it going, and some with very good reason—a lot of stories of loneliness and hurt and tragedy, and finding a loving supporting community on Xanga.

I’m not among them, though. Like so many of my generation, Xanga was just part of my undergrad experience, more or less. I Xangaed from November 2004 to January 2008 with increasing irregularity, so do your own calculations for guessing my age. Looking back over it, a lot of the later posts fretted over my apparent guilt-complex about not blogging enough. My penultimate post reads:

If I updated my blog, as if it were a blog, who would notice?
And for those of you who would notice, is it really the best way to communicate with you?
Does it really matter?

Posted 1/26/2008 5:57 PM

[Obligatory screenshot:image

It’s worth noting how much higher resolution my current monitor is than Xanga seems to have anticipated. Also, notice that Firefox is helpfully suggesting I meant, not Xanga. That’s interesting! I didn’t even know there was such a thing as tanga—it takes twa, no? ]

This was followed a few days later by a straw poll on what readers might like to see on my Xanga. The rest is silence.

On consideration, the merits and demerits of blogging in an age of confusion aren’t a bad way to expend part of one’s undergraduate angst. Looking through the old posts, I was amused to find a very uptight post insisting that we all need to relax. But I’ve meant to take the site down for years, now: no need for me to keep a select record of my juvenilia tucked away in a public archive just yet. With Xanga all but going under—forgive me, but I ain’t the captain of that ship. I’m just a plain ol’ web rat.

So I’m shutting it down, rather than waiting for the company to collapse or regenerate, because I want it to have a quiet deletion, as it were. Where do old websites go when they die? Davy Jones’s virtual storage facility, perhaps.

There’s the question of preservation, though. One of the lies of the internet age, one of the deep flaws and threats in the technology, is that if something is superseded it deserves to be obliterated and forgotten. This is of course true in the case of Windows Vista. But it’s not true about human thought and human experience, and this what the internet is being used to record.

I have come to disagree with my former self on quite a lot of everything, but the angry young man that I was poured his heart and cleverness and intensity into these silly blog posts. I don’t want that part of me just wiped out because technology has advanced, any more than I want to throw out my old ruled journals because I write on unlined paper now.

There is a problem here, and I think it’s increasingly significant, in that the internet, by its very changeability and intransience, invalidates and diminishes the wealth and richness of human experience. Morris Rosenthal, a thoughtful self-publishing guru, just posted about this, and his observations are striking, summarizing a lot of concerns and ideas I’ve been had for the past few years:

I wonder if the popularity of dystopian novels for young adults represents a natural yearning to be free from Big Brother. Sure, it would be horrible to see your family eaten by zombies, or for some natural or man-made disaster to destroy 99.9% of humanity. But maybe kids are beginning to suspect that the substitution of smartphones and the Internet for working through their own experiences and building their own memories is just another form of dystopia, one where they have no control.

I hear similar rumblings coming from self employed individuals, including authors and publishers, who saw the rise of the Internet as a chance to break free from the publishing establishment or to bypass the gatekeepers and go direct to readers. But after nearly twenty years of evolution, the Internet is turning into more of a monopoly than the old publishing universe ever was, with Google dictating what gets read online and Amazon providing the primary retail outlet.

Just naysaying? I don’t think so. I think the pioneers who saw the internet and gadgetry as boundless forces for good were right. I also think the internet has by and large spectacularly betrayed that hope, and I don’t think it’s likely to give it back. Technology is only as good as human nature and, worse, corporate nature, and it’s that last that’s driving this bus.

So I wanted to keep what I wrote, partly as a way of reconciling myself to myself, partly in defiance of the corporate directors who are determining, for reasons that have nothing whatever to do with my personhood or youthful development, to wipe my data. I wanted my own copy of that website.

Xanga provides an archive feature for just this purpose, and I downloaded the files they provided, but—as many unhappy people were pointing out—all the titles were left off the html files. My youthful self was rather proud of his clever titles. Worse, it left off my very first post—an extract from a novel I never wrote because the premise was lame sauce. But I wanted that extract.

So I did some more scrounging around online, and found some ancient open source software for archiving weblogs (the use of that word should have tipped me off). I then learned two things: 1) I am entirely rubbish with using Python, and 2) when you plug some Linux into Windows, Sad Things Happen.

In the end, I settled on HTTrack, a tidy bit of freeware that allows the user to (guess what) download entire websites. (Of course—and this is the only reason I mention it—it is only meant for Entirely Innocent Projects, and not for anything at all Dubious or any other Irregular Activities which I’m sure none of you would think of At All.) And I saved a copy of my Xanga site—it was pretty low key and text-based to HTTrack ate it up fine. I don’t know or have any interest in knowing if it works for more elaborate site.

But as I’ve been going back through these archives, I keep finding things I forgot about—fun things and curious things, of course embarrassing things, and even (though I say it who shouldn’t) quite good things that my younger self wrote. Between now and 15 July, when the lights go down on the old Xanga forever, I may post some of those juvenilia snippets here.

And the best thing? The whole website back-up is re-linked to itself, so when I wipe away my real Xanga I’ll still have it, to browse through and read for nostalgia and embarrassment forever. Or at least till moth and rest decay, lithium batteries die and hard drives fail, till screens go dim and the lased veneer of ink peels off the page.


2 thoughts on “all things must pass

  1. It left off posts from my first few months on my current Xanga site. I wish I had known about the Archives before 2007 me decided she needed a fresh start on Xanga and shut down her old blog. And in 2003 when she did it. Stupid girl. I want those posts.
    I’ll definitely be using HTTrack though! Thank you so much for finding it!

  2. @astepcloser: You’re welcome! It worked a treat for me–hope it does for you, too. I’d come very close several times to obliterating my Xanga–glad I didn’t, now. I forgot a lot of what was up there. But of course it doesn’t always occur to us that we might treasure such things in later years.

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