The Ghosts are in the (HTML) Machine

Image: Ophelia Chong
Image: Ophelia Chong

Your Past Lives Online

The past follows me, like a wispy trail of incense from a swinging thurible. A ghost holds the chain attached to the incense holder, dangling it around wherever I am. The smoke has visions and voices, they settle on every surface leaving a layer that blurs my present intentions. I see my present through my online past. Blurry images and partial thoughts haunt me in the HTML graveyard.

The Ghosts are in the Machine

The ghosts live online. In my past I was involved in Asian American art and theatre, because my ex-husband was a prominent figure in the community. After we began new, separate lives, the internet was in its infancy. Any news about the other were from friends and the occasional news article. Now I can type in his name and see what he's tweeting about, what his favorite flavor of gelato is -- I am virtually in his world.

And it is the same for him, he can see where my life has gone, what path I took. We are not in contact, but we are flies on the virtual wall. Like ghosts we silently flit in and out, hover and whisper words under the sound of the clicking of the keyboard. I see you, you see me, yet we float on our own separate iClouds.

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Your Life is Now 360Ë?

Our lives are no longer linear, we can move into large chunks of information or we can fret over minutiae. I can go forward a minute and back a decade in the matter of seconds on my keyboard. I can swoop in and fly out of pages of data. I am a ghost that can move through walls. I can go online and revive the past, see the missteps, the misinformation, the missed moments. The internet can be one long sigh of regret, a deep whoosh of air from the lungs. Or it can be liberating. Exorcising these ghosts aren't done with chants, prayers, or the beating of chests, but by a cease and desist letter or a purge of your various social media accounts.

We can also free ourselves from the past by seeing the reminders of our past choices. Post it once, shame on you; post it twice, shame on me.

Artist, designer and teacher Ophelia Chong explores her adopted city of Los Angeles with an eye and ear for the small moments that tests the duality of being an Asian American. Join her on her journey every Thursday on KCET's SoCal blog

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