Saturday, February 24, 2007

When the Past Comes to Visit

Reposted from a Yahoo mailing list related to writing...
One of the strange aspects of web publishing is that it's ethereal. Unlike books, where the public can usually get their hands on an original edition. How many hard print authors would like to expunge their earlier works if only they could? A lot, I bet. Well, I can to some degree, and I've been exercising that right to date. But I probably won't forever. It's just going to take a lot of work to sort out and remove references to some early writers, artists and models who have asked to be 'edited out' of the history, or I have chosen to remove. That's the real work -- honoring those wishes.

Of course, as all the Myspace and other social network participants are about to find out, it's hard to totally remove your presence from the Net. How many people in their 40's to 60's are going to be haunted by strangeness they posted on Myspace in their teens or twenties? A lot. Especially given that everything on the net has been archived since the relatively recent arrival of the likes of Google. I've read that they have vast disk farms which will allow future wayback machinery to dig it all out as a function of time, even if the system today is clearly focused on caching and delivery current content. That old stuff, uncounted terabytes of content, is getting stored. Future detectives are going to have some very interesting and rewarding work (like publishing something in 2038 about a congressional candidate's Myspace postings in 2006).

Imagine if the detailed records of our current politician's activites in the Frat house in the 1960's or 70's was possible to dig out? Down to every girlfriend, every drug taken, every beer consumed, not to mention their immature thoughts about
everything imaginable. Every forgettable event and mistake in their lives. Despite pseudonyms, real identities aren't hard to figure out. A person's foolish youthhood should be forgotten and forgiven, not recorded in intimate detail forever. But I guess the Myspace bloggers will also represent most of the voters and journalists eventually, so maybe that strangeness will just be accepted as part of the culture. But that seems hard to believe today.

When I asked Shadar, the original poster, for his OK to repost this here, this was his reply:

Feel free to echo my comments into any forum you wish... although please attribute it to me as you indicate below. I suspect you might get some heated discussions out of it on some forums.

Digital culture is changing so fast its impossible to predict the future, but I do know that I'm glad I (and more importantly everyone else) has forgotten most of the insanity of my first 25 years on this planet. Also that I've never had to explain away any of that stuff in an interview because it was never recorded (we're talking 1960's and 70's). . Privacy and the forgetfulness of time are wonderful, wonderful things. People could re-invent themselves, and unless you had a criminal record (those were recorded for all time), then the 'old self' disappeared to be be replaced by the new.

And our ideas definitely change during our lifetime.

Problem with digital is that its all there staring at you forever... every single bit. Even if you erase it, if it left your PC, odds are somebody's else is keeping it. And now we have Google's disk farms recording (or about to record) the entire friggin' world. Ouch.


  1. What mailing list did you post to?

  2. Actually, this came from the Aurora Universe Readers group at Yahoo. It grew out of the now-defunct Aurora Universe superheroine-fanfiction site. They were talking about all the related stuff that had been posted on the old pre-Web BBS'es and message boards and if there was a way to retrieve it, and the poster who answered concluded his answer with the passage I called "When the Past Comes to Visit."