My father and I lived in the same house, but different worlds.
His was the world of radio waves. He was born in 1949 and grew up listening to Top 10 music on a transistor radio. He lived through the golden era of conservative talk radio, NPR, and late-night conspiracy shows as tuned in on AM.
My world growing up was the world of dial-up internet. I downloaded music MP3s and made little websites to see how far I could push my digital creative skills. I compulsively microblogged (and come to think of it, I still do). I instant messaged and I read my news on a screen.
One early-internet site I wrote on was called Diary-X. It was an online journaling service started in 2000. It was mostly teens writing super cringey stuff about how sad they were and how girls made them sad and how Radiohead was so great just so great. It was awful. But it got me in the habit of writing every day.
It honed my word chops.
It’s not uncommon for people in the same family to miscommunicate. How could my father and I talk to each other? He was radio, I was dial-up. He understood the world through a Baby Boomer evangelical lens and I… I didn’t know what I was. I still don’t know what I am. I believe in God, but His signal has grown weaker over the years.
I strain to hear the small voice coming in from on high.
I recently read that FM radio signals can pierce the ionosphere and travel through the vacuum of space at the speed of light. They travel and keep traveling, though they become diffused the farther they go until they’re faint… faint… faint.
And what happens to words on the internet? Digital domains expire in time, code vanishes. The ones and zeros, unless they’re printed and made tangible, disappear. Remember Diary-X? It was run by this one guy named Stephen Deken. When his server crashed in 2006 all of the Diary-X entries from around the world disappeared, forever. Stephen Deken had no backup on the server. The documented dreams and sad times of thousands of Millennial teens… simply vanished.
I admire the skill of people who code their own software or make their own passion project on the internet, to share with others. If you’re reading this and you’re that sort of person, I say to you good job. Make your thing. Share that thing.
But back that shit up on a hard drive.
This week I was on a video conference call. I was in the converted shed that I sometimes use for an office. There’s a portrait of my father on the wall that I painted a long time ago. I kept looking up at that portrait while I was on my video call. It was kind of like looking at myself. Same nose structure. Same mustache. Same glasses. I’ve even taken to wearing suspenders and a baseball hat as a fashion statement and see? See?
We all must become what we must become.
So here I am in my attic on a Saturday night. My writing day job has ended for the week. My freelancing client-work has also ended. But find that I still have more to say. I am a maker of words and I cannot help it. Am I talking to the internet or to myself? (Often I feel like social media is people talking to themselves, or the image of themselves reflected back through the images of others. Or something. It’s complicated and weird).
The funny thing about radio is that when you listen to it you don’t feel alone. It’s intimate, like you’re hanging out with the people who are talking to you remotely.
It’s probably no coincidence that I compulsively listen to podcasts these days. It’s just radio through the internet. I feel like my dad and I could have had that in common if he had lived into the 2010s.
We must all communicate with our families, with our children. And there is only one thing to say, really: there is no distance between us.
I say to my daughters: you are not alone in the night.
Do you believe in the power of storytelling? So do I.
My freelance writing service, Porter Wordsmith, is your antidote to bland, canned jargon. I’m your guy to help you say the thing and say it right.