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So… why is all this stuff called éphémère?

Well, to start, éphémère is French for ephemeral, though I’m guessing most people already figured that out. The choice of French is because my parents and I have always spoken French at home, and even though I live in a primarily English-speaking environment, I like to remind myself of my francophone side. To be completely honest though, I also found it amusing, because of the popular tendency to tie “French” to “art” and “design.” It just seemed like a fun marketing ploy on top of my more personal reasons.

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So why ephemeral?

I think a lot about digital media and aesthetics, and I find it both exciting and sad that so many experiences, especially digital ones, are fleeting. We go to websites that often took people hundreds of hours to put together, laugh at a cat doing something weird, and move on. We see something that catches our attention, click share in the hopes that someone else might enjoy it (or for the dopamine kick we get when someone “likes” it), and forget about it.

It’s curious, though, because even though our experiences, particularly online, have become so short-lived and unimportant (at least in the moment), they are also the experiences that leave the most concrete trail of evidence. Every click and page view is logged by a server somewhere, so while the viewer is living through a transitory experience, the record of it is far more permanent.

Which is also curious. Because in the Grand Scheme of Things TM, these digital records and experiences are far less permanent. A thousand years from now, even if the technology still exists to read/write to the storage media we use today, who knows if the software will be available to read it? With physical records, like those on vellum or other ancient recording media, there was something tangible. Nothing was hidden behind layers of abstraction that required tools to extract their physical representation. With digital media, there are layers upon layers that are required to extract the “physical representation” (light on a screen) required for us to begin to make sense of an artifact.

Anyway, back to the point about all this being both exciting and sad: while it is disappointing that digital experiences lack a certain “gravity” (seeing the Mona Lisa in person, after you fight through the crowd, is a far more interesting experience than seeing it on a computer screen), digital experiences also have a certain beauty to them in that they are (or can be) so deeply curated and personalized. While physical experiences are often very personal because of what a person brings to them (a Parisian’s experience of the Mona Lisa might be far less exciting than mine, if they’ve seen it 5 times before), digital experiences can be far more of a conversation: the server/computer that generates the experience is often doing it on the fly. For each and every person, or group of people who experience it. Often this happens with the user/viewer’s input, too, which I find even more interesting to think about.

While it’s an example that might make you want to sneer, digital advertising is an interesting one. A physical newspaper has the same ads for every person. Immutable. Impersonal. An online publication (like this one), delivers ads that are curated for the person looking at them. While the amount of advertising online is frustrating, and the experience provided by the ad networks is sub-par, the fact that each of us gets ads personalized to our specific needs and preferences is also kind of beautiful, in a way.

In almost the same way that bumping into an animal along a mountain path is beautiful. Plenty of people run into animals during hikes, but each encounter is unique, and that is kind of beautiful, even if it’s just a squirrel.

While it’s not a very direct reason, those thoughts about beauty, permanence, physicality, and digitality are what made me choose éphémère as a name.