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Friday, January 20th, 2012, 3:39 pm

Activism and Legacy

LEGACY of one’s life may typically matter to a person when death is near. That’s partly because last/recent memories persist better than old ones. Legacy is also what remains in visibility after a person departs from this world, having first emerged in it through conception. But legacy need not be associated with depressing things such as being deceased. Legacy throughout one’s life can be seen as the work that’s left to have impact when one moves from one area to another, from one field of work to another.

In older terms, publications and books were seen as a form of legacy. In a digital world the importance of these becomes more questionable and long-term persistence almost dubious. Work that is done in the disciplines of science and technology may matter a lot at the time of publication/invention, but only years later that work becomes uninteresting due to irrelevance. There are of course exceptions such as key, landmark papers (Charles Darwin’s for example) and immortal series such as Cosmos, but the vast body of work will only have its 15 minutes or fame — if any — and thereafter be shelved.

Activism is different in the sense that it has broader impact due to scale of reach (like target audience). Those who fought SOPA, for example, achieved a great deal and did this not for profit but for ideology.

In my younger days as a researcher I strived to publish papers and had my name put on half a dozen of them around 2005 when I was completing practical work on my Ph.D. In early 2006 I stopped submitting papers and also ceased to attend conferences. These had low impact compared to my sites, their target audience was small (mostly departments in the same field as mine), and the sense of accomplishment was not high. It was then that I turned to activism and spent the majority of my day dedicating energy/effort to good causes, even if it comes at the expense of a paying job. There have been no regrets, except perhaps regrets that I had not started doing this sooner.

The life of an activist is a lot richer than the life of a compulsive businessman. Richness cannot be properly measured in terms of monetary currency and some people are so poor that all they have is a high bank balance. Over the long run, history teaches, activists have a memorable legacy; the latter have not.

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