Bearing Witness

I want people to remember the websites of yore, and I want their creators to know their efforts were appreciated.

As I mentioned earlier, I spent the first weeks of 2020 importing hundreds of entries from older incarnations of Opus. I won’t bore you with the technical details, but suffice to say, I did a lot of copying, pasting, and reformatting during that time. Suffice to say, going through blog posts that I’d written 20 years ago was arduous and mind-numbing, as well as pretty humbling.

Though I’ve never kept a proper diary or journal, Opus has served a similar function at times, and it was a bit embarrassing to read posts by a twentysomething Jason bemoaning the lack of a love life, trying to sound profound concerning some theological or political matter, or waxing snarkily about, well, anything. (I hope I’ve matured a bit now that I’m a fortysomething adult, and that my writing on Opus reflects that.)

Embarrassment aside, it was interesting to note how much Opus’ identity evolved over the years. Early on, I tended to post more personal things (e.g., family updates, baby announcements, wedding congratulations) a lot more alongside more “official” posts, like music reviews and Cornerstone coverage. I’ve cut back considerably on the personal stuff due in no small part to the rise of social media; the algorithms already have so much of my personal info and I’m reluctant to give them any more.

But most importantly, it was fascinating to see how much of Opus serves as a time capsule. So many of the sites that I’ve linked to in the past no longer exist: webzines shut down, bands broke up, artists ceased making art, and people stopped updating their blogs. I hope it doesn’t sound like boasting to say that for some of these things, Opus might be the only proof that they ever existed in the first place.

The web is ephemeral, constantly shifting and morphing — which is why it’s so exciting to be involved in it. Something new is always around the corner, ready to supplant the establishment. Facebook and Google may seem unstoppable now, but I’m pretty sure folks felt that way about AltaVista, Infoseek, and Friendster back in the day, and look what happened to them. Who knows what the web will look like in five years?

But the flip side of that ephemerality is that so much is lost over the years, as sites become neglected or get shut down for any number of reasons. There are various efforts to catalog the web that was, like the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine or Geocities Gallery, but there are plenty of sites that may not be included in their archives. Which is where I hope Opus can play some small part.

If I had to sum up my goal for Opus in one simple phrase, it would be that Opus is about bearing witness — to independent art and overlooked pop culture, certainly, but also to websites that no longer exist and the writers, artists, etc. that called them their online home at one point. I want to remind people that those things once existed, and that they, in some small way, helped make the web what it is today. What’s more, I want the creators of those websites — the armchair music critics, the indie/underground bands, the wannabe writers — to know that their work, their art, mattered… to one person, anyway.

Somebody was paying attention. Somebody bore witness to their efforts.

That may sound grandiose and pretentious given the web’s transient nature, but one of the reasons why we’re where we’re at is that we don’t take the web seriously enough. We don’t take seriously all of the personal and private data that we share without a second thought, but neither do we take seriously the content that’s published online.

Things are improving — blogs, for example, are considered far more legitimate than they were even five years ago — but there’s still so much about web content that’s commoditized and trivialized. That’s a trend that I hope Opus always stands athwart, both by publishing thoughtful, well-written content as well as bearing witness to the thoughtful, well-written content of others — even if they’ve long since vanished.

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