Internet Years & Dog Years: Remembering Jake

By Michael Stephens |

Digital photo of JakeMy dog Jake, the Internet, and I grew up together.

I've been doing some year-end reflecting. It's that time, as resolutions are made and the fresh, shiny New Year beckons with promise. If you follow my "lifestream" -- Flickr photos, the TTW blog, Facebook, etc. -- you know this year had some ups and some downs. Losing Jake to old age was rough -- and losing my other Labrador Charlie one month later still hurts.

One way to heal, as many have told me, is to reflect on the good times. I can't help but realize how closely tied dear old yellow Jake was to the work I started in the mid-1990s all the way through to today. He was with me through many of the milestones of my career with libraries and technology. I think this illustrates how trainers and educators should bring themselves to what they do. It makes it more human, more connected to life.

I started Internet training at the St. Joseph County Public Library the same year Jake came to live with me as a 10 month pup. The family that owned him was growing as well, and there was no room for a big Lab puppy with 3 kids and one on the way. So Jake came to Mishawaka and soon found his way into my staff and public classes at SJCPL -- nope, Jake never actually made it into the library (although one day he almost did when the Administrators were all off somewhere and we stopped by, but Jake stayed in the car). His presence was so pervasive that a librarian stopped me at a conference in Indianapolis and asked "Is your dog in your presentation this afternoon?"

Jake's Web page as a teaching tool about file typesYes, Jake had a Web page before I did! I used the page as a way to discuss what the burdgeoning web offered. I used him to illustrate what various filenames such as .html, .jpg, .gif and wav. might mean. I was sneaky as well -- a shot of his web page actually ended up on the evening news one night when the station came to interview me about the web. :-)

I subscribed to a list called Labrador-L, to illustrate how lists work. I told stories about Jake swallowing a chunk of some chew toy and how I found assistance from folks on the list. It was an easy way to illustrate what mailing lists did so well back in the day.

When I authored the Internet Trainer's Toolkit for Neal Schuman in 2000, I included Jake in a few of the ready-to-go presentations. From the Introduction:

These areas, as well as so much of the rest of these scripts and presentations, can be customized for your own needs. I discuss my yellow Labrador Jake, my relatives in Seattle and other aspects of my life when talking about how I use the Internet because it makes the topic seem more friendly and allows participants in the class to make their own comparisons to their circumstances. Don't hesitate to change these presentations to give them a personal, local flavor.

When I started teaching at Indiana University and then at Dominican University, I still used Jake and his web presence as a way to illustrate how to put a page together, as well as how to identify authoritative Web sites. What would you trust more?

A snippet from Jake's Web pageThe years certainly did fly by -- dog years and Internet years alike. At 13, in May of this year, Jake developed cancer. I couldn't not tell this last part of his story on my favorite new Web 2.0 tool Flickr. It just made sense to share Jake's journey there as well.

I have to thank former TechSource author and my esteemed colleague Karen Schneider for her words at Free Range Librarian during Jake's last days. She captured so well the connection between how the Web had changed and how it could convey the end of my dear old boy's life:

"There is much harrumphing over social networks in some quarters, and a certain pulling in of horns from people who overdid it in the first place.

But sometimes when the shock of the new has worn off we experience that thing that dazzled us with more appreciative eyes, the way love, after a decade or so, becomes a worn flannel robe, familiar and comforting.

When I look at Flickr, I see babies, and friends in love, and Liz's new wardrobe, and children eating ice cream; and I see Michael kissing Jake, his dear old friend nearing the end of a long and honorable dog's life."

I will never forget that.

Jake isn't the first pet to be mourned and celebrated online. There are thousands of sites that exsist to do just that: for pets and more. And if you surf just about any social site, you'll find people expressing grief, joy, frustration, and love about their own lives and relationships.

Library patrons can write reviews and share their own "bad dog" stories at Hennepin County's catalog entry for "Marley and Me" -- and probably find support there as well. Others can reflect on their own feelings at library book club blogs or local history sites. The Web has changed the way we can connect to each other, and share ourselves, and interact. I commented on Karen's post the day Jake passed:

"There's nothing -- no pontification, no “scholarly” diatribe, nothing — that can take these interactions away. They carry meaning, weight, and most importantly, love."

I am so glad that Jake and I had the chance to see the Internet grow as it did together. Who knows what the next wave of "lifestream" tools may bring? In my mind, the connections will only get stronger and enhance our lives even more. Here's to a bright, happy 2008!