Facebook: A Virtual Bookmark In Time

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | April 22, 2009 10:45 am

david-veverka.jpgDavid Veverka was one of my first friends on facebook.  These days I don’t know the majority of the people I’m connected to, but back in 2005, it was just a small network of folks who were really friends.  He’s had this profile picture up for three years, but it’s a good choice considering he pursued marine mammalogy.  We met when I was in graduate school at UMaine because David ran the Society for Conservation Biology.  He had a coveted NSF Fellowship and was also the only person who volunteered to help dissect sea cucumbers for my thesis research. The other lab assistants were work study students, but David just thought cukes were interesting and wanted to learn more about them–despite that it involved a three hour commute to the marine lab.  Needless to say that even back then, I knew he would go on change the world by saving biodiversity and educating the next generation about why it matters.

But on May 8, 2006, the makeshift bomb that exploded near his truck in Iraq didn’t know what he was supposed to go on and accomplish.  Neither did the people who built it.

David lives on in the hearts and memories of those he touched. He also still lives on the internet.  Facebook continues to alert me about his birthday and his photo often appears on the left side of my screen. His profile remains static–aside from an occasional wall message–while I’ve aged three years and changed a great deal.  And in many ways my page has documented the transition from sea cucumbers to science policy and journalism.

For centuries, people have pieced together the past through art, oral tradition, yellowing photographs, and fading print. In my own family, much of the story has been lost. Today, social networking sites allow us to leave deeper footprints behind. We’ve only been walking this boundless beach for a short time, but I wonder how the space will evolve as the internet generation matures. We’re already living on and in the net, and when we leave this world, we no longer cease to exist.  Perhaps someday my great-grandchild will explore the ancient technology of the 21st century and find The Intersection while searching for clues about me. And sure, servers go down, systems crash, and it won’t be long before my macbook air becomes obsolete.  But like David, many of us are leaving a virtual bookmark in time.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Personal

Comments (12)

  1. I am sorry for David and his family. Sadly, I doubt if even the men who trained David really knew what they wanted to accomplish. But his memory nonetheless lives on. Ideas as you know are even more timeless; that is one of the great advantages of doing science. And ideas live on and become a part of our daily lives even after we have long forgotten their sources. 33% of products in daily life are based on quantum mechanics, and the Uncertainty Principle will keep on governing the lives of every single human being who ever lives on this planet even if he or she has never heard of Werner Heisenberg.

  2. Linda

    I am so sorry to learn of what happened to your friend David. He had so much promise, and it is a personal loss and life cut short.
    As you say, he leaves a virtual bookmark in time.

  3. Joseph Soler

    This is a touching and insightful post. I experience the same phenomenon with a Facebook friend- former student of mine- who died in a car accident. What is fascinating beyond the virtual life bookmark of which you speak, is the virtual shrine that such sites can become. People can post on these pages and share their memories of the person. I suspect that this can be therapeutic and might is becoming a new standard method of grieving for the internet generation. This student’s page gets comments and remarks nearly every day still and there is a veritable explosion of activity when the birthday reminders come up each year. The question is whether someone will archive and track these things. The Federal government has its internet archive (at least I think it is a Federal program) but will people be able to locate and track and explore this phenomenon (and others) to any great degree. Will it be possible to examine how this helps those who are grieving? Does it even matter (to study it I mean)?

  4. Thank you for sharing the story of your friend.

  5. Great post Sheril. A real tribute to an American hero.

  6. Sorry to hear about your loss. He sounds like he was a really great guy.

  7. MadScientist

    That’s so sad – but what was he doing in a war zone?

  8. OneHandClapping

    I’m sorry to hear about your friend as well, but I hope that this really gets readers to think about the thousands of lives lost in that senseless war. I was there in 2004-2005 and we lost several people. I have to wonder what each of them would have gone on to contribute if their lives hadn’t been cut short, one of them was a 19 year old woman, another a 31 year old father of 4. Of course, there were tens to hundreds of thousands of civilian lives lost, what would they have eventually contributed? There is no way for us to know. How many David’s have we lost? One is too many. I can only hope that the memory of David and everyone other victim of the war galvanize us to make better decisions as a society in the future. I don’t hold out much hope, but hope nonetheless.

  9. Jon

    This is a moving post… Sorry to hear about your loss, Sheril.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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