When The Internet Forgets
As long as The Internet has been a social tool, it’s been said that The Internet never forgets. Most often this comes up when celebrities’ and politicians’ shady pasts surface, or as a warning before sending nudes. It was as true in 2008 when Scientific American wrote about it as it was earlier this year when it Techpoint Africa covered it.
But is the Internet the elephant of electronic storage?
When The Internet Forgets
As you may know, since 2009 I’ve hosted Know Direction, a podcast about the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Before that, I hosted 3.5 Private Sanctuary, a topical podcast about Dungeons & Dragons third-and-a-half edition. Yes, there was a third-and-a-half edition, and it was glorious.
Episode 55 of that earlier podcast was about the COMIC Continuum. As an acronym, COMIC stood for five elements of a campaign that the Dungeon Master and players rate to determine the tone of a campaign. Stuff like realism, violence, stuff like that. It was an idea I’d heard about on another podcast and decided to dedicate an episode to for the benefit of our listeners.
I think back on this episode often. Having forgotten what COMIC stood for, I decided to dig into my site’s archives to give the episode a listen. It wasn’t there.
First Signs of Memory Loss
Trying to find this episode felt like unraveling the threads of a conspiracy to keep it hidden.
The link on the episode’s page played the audio for episode 56 (ironically about technology). Odd, but small hurdle. I logged into the site’s back end. Episode 55’s audio wasn’t there. Already, that felt deliberate. Private Sanctuary released over 300 episodes, almost all of which can be found in the site’s backend. How was it that one of the few episodes to go missing also had the wrong link on its page?
So I went to my backup drive to find the episode. It wasn’t there. Nor were the shownotes for the episode. This narrowed the list of suspects down to two people: the universe, and me. And if it was me, why didn’t I have any memory of why I nuked Private Sanctuary episode 55 from orbit?
With seemingly no way of finding my episode of the topic, I tried to find the podcast that originally came up with the topic.
Another Mystery to Unravel
My episode’s page linked to the website associated with the podcast: Fist Full of Comics & Games. The link is dead. The store no longer exists on the Internet. Another store with a similar name exists but has no connection.
Also, this wasn’t the name of the podcast. It was the name of a game store that hosted the podcast. No version of “Fist Full of Comics & Games super hero podcast 2008” netted me any useful results. Google may have been all about that year today when I asked if the Internet ever forgot, but when I was looking for this podcast, Google was so done with 2008.
A Break In The Case
The Internet diligently covered its tracks, but it missed one clue. Since logging for the first time in high school, I have had the same Hotmail account, and I don’t delete a lot of e-mails. I found an e-mail I sent to my co-host with the outline for the episode.
First of all, this mean I now knew what COMIC stood for:
Colour: How fantastic your game is.
Origins/Options: How wide a variety of options are available to your character.
Mystery: How known and accepted magic and monsters are.
Innocence: How the population reacts to the heroes.
Carnage: How violent the game gets.
Second of all, I had the name of the podcast: Superhero Summit. I may have found what I was initially looking for, but now I was curious what became of this old podcast that stuck with me over a decade later.
It disappeared. It has no Internet home. The episodes don’t exist anywhere. Other than a few ancient blog posts on other sites referencing the podcast, it’s as though it didn’t exist.
Fortunately, one of those blog posts (found by my friend Shaun, who was an asset in this leg of the investigation) mentioned the show’s hosts: Victor Cantu and JJ Lanza. Wanting to archive the COMIC Continuum, I looked them up and found we had a mutual friend in the tabletop RPG podcast space: Them Tome Show’s Jeff Greiner.
I reached out to Jeff and found out neither is active much on the Internet anymore.
Not Active On The Internet?
This might have been the biggest surprise of all. Most podcasters I know from the early days are either still in it or parléed the podcast into a career in the field. The idea that anyone is just not on the Internet is hard for me to grok as someone whose job, hobbies, and social life are partially or mostly online. But specifically for someone who podcasted in the aughts to be off the Internet, that’s a completely foreign idea to me.
Nostalgia is one of the emotions I have the strongest connection to. The evolution of my relationship with the Internet largely involved seeing media I thought lost forever become commonly accessible. As we enter another decade of the Internet’s existence, it doesn’t have the same memory for the items born on the Internet.
As my friend Jon, who helped me with various steps of this mystery, put it:
So I guess the moral of the story for all of us is archive everything you think you might want to see/hear again. We need to be the keeper of our own collections and not expect even the content creators to do so.
On a positive note, one of my listeners did find audio of Private Sanctuary 55 on archives.org. That audio has been saved to my computer and uploaded to my site. No such archive for Superhero Summit, but at least my episode wasn’t lost to time. That does not mean I can get complacent about keeping back-up copies, of course.
Come to think of it, I haven’t backed up my computer in a while. I’ll do that today. Maybe you should too. For everyone’s sake.