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Friday, September 3, 2010

What you write (or have written) remains forever

Arrested for possessing cocaine in Las Vegas on Aug 27, celebrity Paris Hilton initially claimed that the purse in which cocaine was found belongs to someone else, reports TMZ.com. Two days later, she changed her story and confirmed that the purse was indeed hers. Someone else must have borrowed it and deposited the cocaine, she says, either inadvertently or deliberately.

Perhaps Hilton changed her story because she remembered – or someone pointed out to her – that in July she had posted a photograph of the purse in question on Twitter with the caption “Love My New Chanel Purse I got Today”.

Life on the Internet is largely indelible. Although Facebook, for example, provides a way to delete one’s account in a draconian fashion, tidbits in Facebook (and perhaps your entire record) may remain in various search engines or archive sites. One must assume that whatever one posts to the Internet will be accessible throughout eternity. I’m certainly aware of that when I write these blog entries.

Several times a year since the 1980s, newpapers and magazines have printed my letters to the editor. Although in theory they are searchable in paper or microfilm archives, in practice the likelihood that anyone interested in my history – that’s difficult to imagine -- could find them has been quite low. Even if you can find them, retrieving them is expensive. The Raleigh News & Observer has my letters they’ve published since 1990 in their online archives, but it costs $2.95 each to read them.

However, Google Books has begun digitizing books and placing them online in searchable form. Recently I researched a question of history in the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, and I was surprised to find annual records of the Diocese from the 1890s freely available online. Google is digitizing recent books, too -- to such an extent that there is ongoing controversy about copyrights. It's only a matter of time until Google targets magazines and newspapers. Anything that’s extant in print or microfilm can and eventually will appear on the Internet.

Indelibility – a rather uncommon word, until now – has its pluses and minuses. I suspect it will shape society in unpredictable ways.