Tuesday, August 15, 2000

virtual immortality

I wish it hadn't become so easy to attain immortality.

Actual physical immortality is pretty hard to come by. Aside from a half-dozen people in Rhode Island, the only immortal I know of is couch potato Stuart Finnegan of Five Forks, Pa., who got immortality three years ago by eating radioactive banana-flavored Dannon yogurt and who has announced his intention of spending his life watching reruns of "Bowling for Dollars."

For those of us who don't like banana-flavored yogurt, radioactive or otherwise, there is an alternate route to immortality. This usually involves doing things your mother said not to and as a consequence dying prematurely, which, admittedly, takes away some of its charm, but at least people remember you afterward. Like for half a year, if you're lucky.

In the good old days, such feats had to change the course of human history. Alexander the Great conquered the known world. Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. Alaric the Visigoth brought the Roman Empire to its knees.

For my part, I can't even win a game of Risk without using tactical nuclear weapons to rout my opponent's armies. If I saw mold growing on a Petri dish, I probably would try to hide it before my wife saw it and yelled at me for not doing the dishes.

As for bringing an entire civilization to the point of collapse, that is pretty much the sole province of Congress nowadays. I have come close once or twice just this past week, but  I feel guilty if I run five minutes past the limit on the parking meter. I just don't have what it takes to be an anarchist.

What I lack in audacity and skill, I have compensated for in timing. Unlike the larger-than-life villains and heroes of history, I achieved a form of immortality about 10 years ago without even trying. I didn't get any cities named after me like Alexander did, but there are a few directories on web sites and on FTP servers named "David Learn" in my honor.

I was a college student when I discovered the Internet, which in those days was limited primarily to e-mail, listservers and discussion boards called newsgroups. While my peers were developing into full-blown alcoholics, I was on the Star Trek newsgroups, where I soon made my presence known.

I wrote parodies. I wrote fan fiction. I compiled a list of references to Shakespeare within Star Trek. I even posted the first few sections of my honor's thesis on the religious themes of Star Trek. I posted so much that people I had never met knew me by name, quoted me and satirized me.

With the Internet, anyone can be assured of a place in history. When I punched my name into a search engine earlier this month, you probably can guess what I found. Parodies. Stories. Lists. Discussions of whether using the transporter killed people. Debates over whether Kirk was a better captain than Picard. Arguments over whether Lt. Data has a soul.

All of them had my name somewhere, often in the byline. It was as if someone had exhumed all the bodies in my basement and then strewn them across the stage of a twisted production of "This is Your Life."

Given the nature of the Internet, these things likely still will be available if I buy the proverbial farm, kick the proverbial bucket or otherwise end my mortal existence in the next 50 or 60 years. (Please note I said "if." I don't like radioactive yogurt of any flavor, personally, but I'm hopeful I'll find another out.)

There's only one thing I can do to stop this from being my legacy.

Anyone know any civilizations to topple?

Copyright © 2000 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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