I stopped at a garage sale during lunch yesterday. But it extended beyond the garage, into the kitchen and bedrooms, basement and yard... everything. And as I looked around, it became obvious this wasn't just a garage sale. Someone had lost their parents, and it was a liquidation of everything they'd accumulated over a lifetime.
Like they say, you can't take it with you.
There were the usual trinkets - dishes and mugs and candles. Appliances, some unused and others antiques. Furniture with scratches, and books with worn covers. There were old tools in the garage, with peeling yellowed labels and a coating of rust, and jars and bags full of odds and ends. The rooms were upended, every item exposed and labeled with a price. A dozen strangers wandered the halls, deciding whether or not they could find a use for any of it - whether one person's trash really was someone else's treasure.
If the owners could peer down from the afterlife, what would they be thinking? What if, like Bilbo, they simply popped back in and interrupted the proceedings? How aggrieved would they be that their stuff was even for sale? In the image above, Bilbo has just returned to the shire after his adventures to find his belongings being auctioned and carted off, and confronts Lobelia about taking his silver spoons.
A Shallow Glimpse
An estate sale like this is the shallowest glimpse into lives that were possibly quite rich. Who knows what they liked or disliked, whittled away the hours doing or dreaming about, or spent their time on. It's so final, yet incomplete. Who knows which of the items was special to them, or why that might've been the case. Not that it matters much anymore, except to those left behind.
And all that got me thinking - what if something happened to you or me, and all people had left was our digital life? The contents of a My Documents folder.. a OneDrive and GitHub account.... a LinkedIn profile and blog? What would they guess about our lives? What would they find valuable that we could not have cared less about? What would they find useless that had great sentimental value?
Some of my digital life is purely sentimental, with little real value to anyone other than me.
- Thousands of family photos, attached to happy memories and fun experiences. Some involve people now gone forever, making them even more precious for the good times they evoke in memory. They wouldn't be worth much, or be much more than a curiosity to someone unfamiliar with my life.
- My first website, an ugly geocities abomination with trailing mouse cursors and info on the best game series of all time - the Legend of Zelda. 🧝🏹 I was proud of it once upon a time, but it was one of a billion such sites, and not among the best by any wild measure.
Some of my digital life is purely practical, with limited value but for the purpose they serve.
- My projects on GitHub, in various states of completeness. Some are personal challenges like GhostSharp, but most of them were written with a specific purpose in mind, like hiding comments or google doodles. Others are just random lists and half-completed ideas. If they were up for the taking, someone might want them for the purposes they serve.
- A personal wiki full of notes and information, about my accounts and stuff I own. It's dry, part of a larger idea called a legacy drawer. There wouldn't be much of interest there except to someone trying to get my affairs in order... or to get to sleep. :)
- A YouTube channel with Raspberry Pi projects, which pushed me to make sure I really understood what I was trying to teach others.
And of course, much of my digital life is absolutely useless. :)
- Music I liked once upon a time, that I haven't listened to in years - and few others would either.
- My Feedly account with a list of blogs I always mean to read, but never get around to.
- An Evernote account with random thoughts, which I meant to delete years ago.
- Facebook and Twitter accounts full of useless drivel and ephemeral thoughts. I deleted both of mine awhile ago, but I'm sure the data is still there somewhere...
What about you?
What would you leave behind? Would anyone find it valuable? Could someone place a price tag on any of it, or would they just send it directly to the recycle bin?
More importantly, is it consuming more of your life than it should? Does it have intrinsic value, whether sentimental or practical? What does it say about the person you are? Does it help you or others, or is it like the stuff in the back of an attic or corner of a basement collecting dust?
Is it time to finally dust it off and bring it back to life, or just let it go forever?