(From xkcd. Click on the thumbnail for full sized digital footprints in the sand.)
Every so often -- every so often -- a pun doesn't make me groan. Every so often, a pun is an accent to a mood. A clever note on a feeling. And every so often, xkcd manages to touch on a universal behavior through an incredibly idiosyncratic method.
Comparatively speaking, very few people run servers -- and even fewer run servers with other users on them. The behavior that Munroe is describing is unique to a specific profession and a specific type of user. I occasionally administer boxes where I have folks running screen sessions, because that's part of what I do for a living. Most people -- even most readers of xkcd -- don't.
And yet, in one sense we've all been there. Or at least we all can see where this is coming from. If nothing else, keeping the last voicemail you received from someone who died, because you can't bear to erase it, even if you also can't bear to listen to it... that's something that's very human, very part of the grieving process. So long as you have that 1 next to the total messages, then you still have an active connection to someone the rest of the world can only remember.
Or take the last post someone makes to Livejournal or the like. That post, no matter what it's about, becomes a de facto memorial post -- comments fill up as people express condolences to the family... but just as often they send last message they ever can to the person who's died. This is their post, so when you send a comment you're sending it to that person, right? Right? That's how Livejournal works. So if this is your last chance to say how special they were, how much a part of your life they were... then thank God you have it. So you have someone who posts something... well, utterly banal like "Well, time to go grab lunch. I hope the tuna doesn't smell like ass today," and underneath it you have 600 comments from people saying how much they loved the poster, and how they miss them, and how they think of them every day... there's a disconnect there. The mundane touches the spiritual. The everyday touches the eternal. And it feels active. It feels real.
On the other hand, I have to wonder how much more a user's eternal screen session evokes this feeling -- because this was more than a message left or a post made. This was something ongoing. You see, screen sessions allow you to disconnect from a server while leaving a... well, ghost of that connection active, so that when you reconnect the screen looks exactly like it did when you left, and any projects you were doing are sitting right there, waiting for you to pick them up. This is the digital equivalent of a half-written poem, the paper still sitting on the desk, the pen still uncapped on top of it.
And then there's the alt-text, and that's universal too. In a sense, it's even a part of that same grieving process -- because hey, they'd love the joke, right?
Some folks will be upset that this one isn't funny -- or think that the pun at the end means it's trying to be funny -- but really, this strip's a lot closer to the angular momentum strip -- one of those brief moments that are a touch sappy and a touch wistful and still a touch geeky. Less about the funny, more about life, as seen through the eyes of a math, physics or computer geek. It's been part of xkcd from the beginning, and it's often done ham-handedly, but when it's done well it has tremendous effect, and today's was done well.
This one just nailed me. I'm not sure anyone would still care, but Randall Munroe gets himself a biscuit for this one.
A tasty, tasty biscuit.