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I think when we all started becoming aware of the internet in the late 1990s, there were three things we believed: It was a safe place to go surfing (it wasn’t), when we deleted something it was gone (it wasn't, as the internet is in pen, not pencil) and that researching stuff that happened in the past was going to be a lot easier.
Search engines, we believed, would find everything ever posted on the internet. As I used to tell my friends, the answer to all of life is on the internet. The hard part was figuring out how to phrase the question.
Two weeks ago I realized even that’s not true. I’m not talking about censorship or anything similar (although in the future, that’s probably going to be an issue too). But while writing about the anniversary of the tragedy at Virginia Tech back in 2007, I mentioned on social media that a lot of college football teams wore Virginia Tech decals on their helmets for their spring games.
To illustrate this, I posted pics from Ohio State and Penn State’s spring games, and got several comments from people saying “I never knew that.” My reaction was that there were many more who did similar things, so I went to Google to find examples.
My search to do so failed.
After trying all sorts of phrases, the only two I came up with were the two I had posted myself on social media. Those same two were also in a story Virginia Tech did concerning the April 16 anniversary, and they showed up as well. But the rest that I distinctively remembered couldn’t be found.
Some of that made sense because in the early days of the internet, there were millions of items to be indexed, but now over 20 years later, that number was probably hundreds of billions. To search that many – despite how much Wizard of Oz gibberish the Einsteins of Silicon Valley utter about algorithms and magic potions – would probably still mean the farther you go back, the longer it’s going to take. Which means the search engines are going to return more recent data rather than let you sit there for 10 minutes waiting for results.
It then dawned on me that the next best source for such history was sitting in my own house.
If you’re a younger person, you first must understand the personality flaw many of us older guys inherited from our Dads. My old man would never throw anything away, reasoning that “you never know when you might need it.” Truth be told, 99 percent of the stuff saved would never be needed because it was junk in the first place.
But once every two years, you’d come across a situation where to prop something up temporarily while working on it, an old bowling pin would come in handy. Or the bottle top off an old beverage container. Even a rubber gasket left over from the interior repair of a toilet mechanism. Every time that would happen, the old man would exclaim “I told you” as he rummaged through the boxes of old junk on his work bench and found just what he needed.
Well, young bucks, I hate to break it to you, but most of us eventually become our Dads. So I for the last 20 years have become a person who never throws anything away. I’m not quite as bad, because I am married to a woman who just waits until I’m not home and then throws the obvious stuff away, daring me to remember it even existed.
But I am this way, specifically with computers. I not only have never thrown a computer away, when friends tell me their computers have died, I ask them for it for a possible spare part I may need in the future. My basement is cluttered with old computer carcasses, but once every few years I work on a machine, realize I’ve lost the tiny screws that hold a component in place, then head to the computer graveyard in the basement to retrieve replacements.
In addition to this mental ailment, I also am a strong believer in a picture being worth a thousand words. I can tell you what happened, but if I can show you a picture or a video, you’ll understand better. So every picture I’ve ever taken, every video I’ve captured, every pic or video I’ve seen on the internet that I’ve found interesting…I saved them all. If you’re on the internet, all you have to do is right click on the picture you find interesting, click on save as, and it’s captured to your download folder. I have thousands of such pics or videos.
It even got to the point that I bought a small Dell Server two years ago to store all this stuff. The server came with one hard drive, but had the capability of holding up to six hard drives. So as a computer would die, I’d add its hard drive to the server. There are five in it right now, but from the comfort of my easy chair, I can see every file on that server from previous computers going all the way back to 2002. So when people said they didn’t know this about those spring games, I spent hours going through these files.
It opened my eyes to the treasure trove of local history I had at my disposal. I found pics from the Kentucky spring game, the front pages of the Roanoke Times the day after the tragedy, pics from UVA where they not only pained the Beta Bridge to say “Hoos and Hokies” but also the large “Z” on the steps on the grounds in maroon and orange.
Much of the search brought back personal memories (every moment from the day my daughter arrived home from the hospital at birth all the way up to and past the day she graduated from Virginia Tech is there), but some document local sports and local news from more than a generation ago.
For example, there was a time when Loudoun County had more newspapers and media sites covering local sports than there were high schools. Stone Bridge opened in 2000 and was the sixth Loudoun high school while there were three weekly newspapers, a local radio station, the Washington Post had its own bureau here in Loudoun, and multiple places televised high school football. Now, the number of schools has tripled and the number of media outlets have almost vanished.
One place games were televised was Comcast on its local access channel. I was the play-by-play guy, and my late friend Paul Draisey did color commentary. I kept copies of all broadcasts, and in 2009, I got this crazy idea that Broad Run – which was undefeated and won the state title in football in 2008 – would do it again. So I decided after every game to boil down the video of each game to the key plays, then would use my home studio to add a voiceover, so years from now, someone could watch the plays, hear the names, and maybe a warm memory would be revisited.
Mike Burnett was the Broad Run coach, and even to this day I consider Mike and his wife Kim great friends and part of the family. Mike got me whatever video I needed that Comcast didn’t have, and when the team headed down to Virginia Tech to play for the state title, I put all those short videos together into one seamless 25-minute video for them to watch.
Mike said the team enjoyed it, and I told him a generation from then when they were grown men with families of their own, maybe it will make them smile and feel young again, as we burned DVD copies for everyone. Then I forgot about it until this week when I discovered it among all the old files.
I watched it. It's been 12 years and I felt like it was 2009 again. So I uploaded it to youtube the other day so perhaps others can experience the same.
I know people say those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it. But this week I also learned if you don’t capture it, you’ll never have the chance to either learn or enjoy it. So now I’m going through every phone and computer I have to make sure I have captured everything and stored it properly where I can find it when needed.
I’d recommend everyone do the same, because computer memory, these days, has never been cheaper.
The history and memories they capture, however, are priceless.