At some point most everyone has to think about “their legacy.” Not just the size of your own ego, but, more importantly, what you left behind. Will it stand the test of time and will others find it useful? That starts to be a nagging question. In part this post came about because Glen Campbell passed away recently. No, I’m not a country fan, but when I was a little kid he was on the radio a lot. You see, we only had the AM Radio and a handful of stations. Same for television. When the television finally got that second tuning knob we got one or two more.
Despite all of the hardships and lack of air conditioning we were a more unified country then. Everybody listened to the same set of radio stations, watched the same television shows, or read a book. You couldn’t periscope down into your own little universe of fake news and hatred except within the pages of a book. You had to risk finding others and eventually you were found out. None of this spitting venom from behind an avatar on some chat or social media service.
For far too many people, uneducated hate filled comments posted on-line will be the legacy they leave behind. Just because you chose a cute handle and creative avatar while registering using a Gmail account you never visit, doesn’t mean you are anonymous. Quite the contrary, you’re easier to track than anyone.
In truth, a great many of us don’t think about our legacy until it is well past time to start building one. At best, many of us will have made a friend who remembers us until they are gone. Artists of all kinds have the potential to create something which will exist on the Internet or in physical form long after they are gone, but if nobody finds it or if no lives are enriched by it, was it a legacy?
Some legacies simply get stored. Other than the occasional hay rack ride or parade, they have only sentimental purpose. Some family member bought them and at one time they were that person’s pride and joy. Time and technology passes them by. It becomes difficult to justify the maintenance to even keep them operational since there is so very little they can do.
We in the IT world see this happen constantly. How many of you reading this remember Wang Laboratories? There was a time when those systems defined multi-user shared document editing. Today people use cloud hosted services, many of which are some level of “free” if you endure the loss of privacy, advertising and content mining. Putting it in a context younger people might understand, just how many of you are typing away on an INTEL 286 based PC running DOS and Word Perfect? There was a time when Word Perfect ruled the word processing market. While it is still around, it’s market share seems to dwindle by the day. Why spend hundreds of dollars on a professional word processing package when there are dozens of “free” word processors out there which can meet most users needs? The legacy here though is that Word Perfect defined the PC based word processing market and every one of those “free” word processors owes its design and feature list to Word Perfect.
Some legacies still remain serviceable long after they have been render obsolete in the minds of most. While it may surprise you to learn it, you can still be a great novelist having little more than a cast-off 286 and an “obsolete” version of Word Perfect. True you might not be able to go straight to ebook with your file, but you can get your story both written and edited. You’ll probably even get more done since you cannot have an Internet browser open while Word Perfect is up.
This old White 2-135 tractor hooked to an auger is another fine example of legacies which live on long after the industry has deemed them obsolete. While grain augers have gotten far to long and large for something like a Model 70 John Deere to run, this old tractor has more than enough to do the job. It is old too. We bought that when I was in high school.
If you travel rural America you will find a great many tractors of the 1970s to early 1980s era running augers during harvest. They will still be on the farm long after this year’s 600+ horsepower tillage monster is traded off. In short, their legacy is “optimum technology.” They aren’t the prettiest or most fuel efficient, but they are paid for and can still do the job. I suspect 100 years from now you will still find many of these tractors in active service. They don’t get used a lot but they fill a distinct need. Sure, you can buy a new 120-140 horse power tractor to run an auger, but that will cost around $100,000. These things still in the $8,000-$15,000 price range. Do the math.
The sad reality of choosing one’s legacy, is that it may well be obsolete before we pass. How many of you remember the retail chains of Venture, Zayer or Fretter. At one point each of these were a legacy someone planned to leave behind. They are now just entries in Wikipedia.
Some of you may be wondering about the featured image of this post. It’s what is left of an old husk/shuck wagon used during the corn shelling process. The rest of it was wood and was burned a long time ago. There was a time when someone chose as their legacy to make the finest shuck wagons on the market. You might still find one or two at a threshers reunion celebration.
The youth of today have an unbelievable chance for a legacy. Too few seem to care about it. What you create on-line could, in theory, live forever. It can at least live as long as the Internet, provided you are careful where you choose to put it. At some point Wikipedia won’t get enough donations to keep running. Youtube could well go bankrupt ala Yahoo. (There was a time when _nobody_ believed Yahoo could go under.) Even Google will go under at some point. If you don’t believe that last statement just remember, 30 or so years ago Sears was the retail titan, now it says it may not continue as a going concern in its financial reports.
For centuries, most people had a singular option when it came to their legacy. They got married and had children. That was it. The home they owned would eventually crumble. Books they wrote would eventually rot after going out of print and songs they sang would disappear when the recording (if any) media went away. While I’m sure some newer audio formats will be developed, we have global standards for EPUB, MP3 and MP4. These standards will exist for centuries and things will be required to support them. When Amazon goes under your Kindle formatted ebooks will no longer sell. (Remember Sears before you diss that statement.)
Your unkind words posted in Usenet or other newsgroups will be archived by many content hoarders. Twenty years after the last person who knew you is gone, the world will remember you as an uneducated and belligerante a-hole.
If you don’t choose a legacy, your life will choose one for you.