When I was growing up in Nebraska, my family was famous for always telling its young, “Never write something you don’t want read out loud to the rest of the world.”
That sort of advice, bundled in a warning, and wrapped in a grin and punctuated by a pointing finger, was daunting for a group of nine-year-old cousins to comprehend as we scrawled our names in crayon on a Big Chief pencil tablet.
As the publisher of GO INSIDE Magazine, I am amazed how many of my authors over the years have written to me years after the publication of their work to either have their article deleted — because they changed their mind and no longer feel that way
— or because they didn’t want anyone doing a Google search on their name to find the article they wrote “way back when” when they apply for a job.
As if urged on by my Midwestern DNA, I pull out my wagging finger and my virtual GRIN and I calmly tell those authors we do not “unpublish” articles and we do not delete or add-to an author’s byline after publication.
Articles are frozen moments in time — even on the web — and that reliability and predictability that what is published stays published and unchanged is a sacred covenant between a publisher and an author and a reader that must never be abridged or broken. I often get a response back from those authors who either say, “You are not The New York Times so delete my article.”
Or, “I can’t have my employer reading that, can’t you just use my middle name instead of my first name to hide my identity?” My answer to them is it doesn’t matter if we are The New York Times or Time Magazine or Big Billy’s Boobies Blog
— publication is an event in time that can never be changed or you are not honoring history or the intention of preserving the record.
An author’s words become larger than the author after publication. An author’s words belong to the intellectual world and the universal community of mind. My response rarely assuages those authors so I offer them the opportunity to recant their own work in print right next to their original article. They can write on-the-record how they have changed their mind and why they no longer believe or support their original arguments.
That sort of self-repudiation of the former being is always sad because there is no graceful way to remove the power of the original published impulse, but that doesn’t stop authors from trying to set their current table right by disavowing the facts of their past. “Own Your Words.”
That’s what I remind all my GO INSIDE Magazine authors and I also share that publication mantra with my students and my friends and my associates and anyone else who chooses to publish their private thoughts on the web, because once you set down those ideas for eyes and ears other than your own, the power of the pen, the swoosh of a sharpened and gleaming, mightier, sword, can never be recalled to its sheath by wishing or be made duller by the regret of fleeting circumstance.
I was listening to a radio show and the host was talking about the “permanent record” always mentioned in high school and how everyone found out it didn’t matter once the graduation ceremony was complete.
He said today’s “permanent records” are Myspace accounts, blog, and other webpages spidered by Google.
I suspect the “permanent record” idea doesn’t matter much for things on the internet much the same was it didn’t matter once we were finished with school.
There’s a New York Times reporter with the same name as mine and I was only asked a question if I had any connection. It was when he was captured by the Iraqis during the First Gulf War. Someone wanted to know if he was my dad. (He isn’t).
Just as people aren’t talking about us when we aren’t in the room, I doubt that people are looking us up on Google.
And, if they are, I doubt what we wrote a couple of years ago really matters to anyone. If it did matter to an employer so much, I wouldn’t want to work for a place that was so uptight.
Minor addition for clarity:
I was only asked one time about the Chris Hedges who inspires 1,900,000 Google hits.
Ah! You are tormented by another “Chris Hedges” much in the same way I am tormented by the five other “David Boles” people out there who write and teach. As you know, sharing the same name can be fun at times but most of the time it is confusingly old.
Everything we do — written or not — should be considered part of our permanent record. We are not perfect. We are infallible. We should own our human deeds and our words at all times. There aren’t many true mulligans in real life and we should assume by default how we behave in all circumstances is how others will choose to remember us.
I would wonder about the people who aren’t flawed in some way or haven’t done something wild or crazy (especially during college).
People who have no past are covering up something or are anti-social.
Hi Chris —
You’re right we’ve all done things that might be pause for regret. If the mistake is human and common why have regret over it? That kind of trying and failing and wrong-decision-making is part of us all. It is those who refuse to forgive AND forget are the ones who are hiding some horror they hope is never revealed.
I’m so glad you have this policy and that you didn’t delete the relationship related articles I once asked you to. It’s a part of my life history and just as I can’t go back in time and stop it from happening, I shouldn’t try to hide it by removing it from the ever lovely Go Inside magazine.
Hi Gordon —
I, too, am glad you didn’t press too much in erasing that public part of your life. It’s who you are and it navigates the path that led you here. To erase what was is impossible because, as the great Nebraska orator William Jennings Bryan once said, “The truth, when crushed to the ground, shall rise again.”
I applaud your policy. Are you always sad about a repudiation? Are there no instances where an author says, “Yes, that was my belief at the time, but I have had further experience in this area. I know believe ‘y’ and here is why …” I would think that could be quite powerful in its own way, showing how one has grown or changed.
I agree your example of a recantation would be worthy and an interesting read.
I have yet to see a recantation of that nature work in a positive way. The examples I’ve seen have been to hide and cover what was once an interesting and provocative argument.
Oh, I disagree again!
The Mommy Bloggers think they’re writing Shakespeare and they’ll do anything and everything to preserve every meaningless thought, droplet, giggle and spittle!
Itâ€™s the good writers like you that cause worry with your casual attitude about publication and indifference to leaving breadcrumbs behind that others may choose to follow or consume in fallow times.
I think those who donâ€™t own their words are fence sitters without ethics. I can change my mind but I donâ€™t think I can change my core value every now and then.
I should be accountable of my own words.
Well said, Katha!
I think these people who wish to change their tethers to the past are afraid of what those in the future will think of who they used to be â€“ that is a common human fear but it is part of us all and, therefore, demands understanding and clarity of vision.
Have you ever had a chance to root around in Myspace?
I wonder if some of the 18-year-olds sending out questionaires asking people to apply for boyfriend/girlfriend positions and how far they are willing to go and what they want to do are thinking about when they are 50-years-old and are in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Of course, my position is that if you are 18-years-old in 2006 and didn’t send out that type of questionaire, the background investigators need to spend extra time digging for the skeltons.
I wonder what anthropologists and historians will think of all of the baby/mommy blogs and Myspace accounts when they find them and figure out how to read them 600 years from now?
Hi Chris —
I recently hooked up both a MySpace and a FaceBook account — no content either of the places from me â€“ just to check and see what all the fuss was about and I still don’t get it.
I guess they are social networking places where you can be obnoxious and hook up with people you don’t know? I don’t know. I didn’t get the frame of the ideas of those places.
I think those in the future who choose to study us after we are dead will be amazed at how much free time we had when the world was crumbling all around us and we did nothing to heal it in time.
They will discover were only interested in peering into LCDs and CRTs to ignore the fire engulfing us on all sides.
It will be a sad day of reckoning for memories when they realize on our behalf that we never really lived at all.
I understand your point; at times we lack understanding â€“ at least I do. I become judgmental. It reminds me of one saying â€“
â€œAssert your right to make a few mistakes; if people canâ€™t accept your imperfection, thatâ€™s their fault.â€
I love that saying, Katha, and I am with you always!
I set up a Myspace account also to see what it is all about.
I took a couple of further steps, customized the look of the page, put in a picture and wrote a little about myself.
My site isn’t completely spammy, but since I put down that my interest was in networking and sales, I didn’t feel bad about mentioning that I had online businesses that might be of interest to people.
In fact, I think my online businesses attract friend requests, so it’s pretty cool to see new people on the friends list.
With very little effort and in a very short amount of time, I have over 120 friends.
It’s a six-degrees of separation deal.
Once you get a friend, it’s easy to get more of her friends and so on and so on.
You have a lot of MySpace friends! Wow! Fantastic!
You should really get a Gravatar set up, Chris! If you want me to make one for you that is abstract, let me know what sort of icon you want to look like and if you want to use your photo or something similar in your own cache of beauty — mail it to be and I’ll get it into the right size and format for you. If youâ€™re willing to shill your beautiful face on MySpace you can shill it here, too!
I signed up for my gravatar account 🙂
Myspace is a different type of place that what I’m used to on the internet — there’s a lot of “don’t break this chain or else you’ll have 100 years of bad luck!!!!” and “click on this to be able to track your friends and everything they do for the rest of their lives” — but it’s a thriving community full of energy and filled with all sorts of people.
It’s definitely a phenomenon that will make some sort of difference once someone figures out how to harness all of that energy.
I’m glad you are signed up for a Gravatar account. Now also email me your Gravatar so I can add it to your bio on our Authors page!
MySpace is the Wild West of the Internet. I worry about a herd mentality there where belonging becomes more important than making rational decisions about privacy and safety for the younger set.
I know several people who have given up their blogs to “blog” and connect with people on MySpace instead.
How does MySpace make money for Rupert Murdoch?
It’s addictive to connect with people on MySpace, but there’s isn’t much blogging and other new content generation going on from what I can see. Mostly, it seems like a billboard for people and their interests.
I’ve come across people on MySpace who don’t like having lots of friends. They set up their accounts so that you can’t request to be their friend, unless you already know them. It seems counter-cultural to the whole MySpace idea. Often, these people only have a couple of friends in their profiles because they don’t allow anyone to connect with them.
I think Rupert Murdoch makes money with Adsense and the other advertising on the site.
I read that BlogExplosion was making $4K/month or so without any advertising on the site and is for sale for $100K. MySpace must pull in huge money to have been purchased for the price that was paid.
Hi Chris —
A lot of people felt MySpace was a strange buy. Then they saw it explode with popularity. I don’t know how it is making Murdoch back his money, though. There must be grander plans afoot that we can’t see yet. It will be interesting to watch it all fall out.
When I went to check my email and to send the gravatar pic, I noticed an email that Blogexplosion has been sold again. The email didn’t mention the price it fetched, however.
Hi Chris —
It originally sold for $150,000 with $25,000 down and the rest due in six weeks, I believe. Then the original buyer dropped out and lost that down payment.
It was auctioned off last week on Sitepoint and this time around sold in two days for close to the original price which I am feeling is around $100,000 USD.
I wonder if we’ll see any political movements take advantage of MySpace when 2008 comes a little closer?
I can see it being useful in gathering together likeminded people.
I bet BlogExplosion will see advertising in the near future to make the price worthwhile.
Your Gravatar is now on the Author’s page! Yay! It looks great! I can’t wait for Gravatar.com to set you up in their system.
I hope the 2006 midterms will spice up things on MySpace!
It looks like an interesting networking of minds.
BE will certainly change. Monetizing previously free things has a bad habit of ruining a good thing.
Thanks for adding the picture!
The 2006 mid-terms will be something to watch.
I can’t make any predictions, because everything is so fluid and nobody seems to be in a position to really lead anyone in any particular direction. I don’t think the public is paying close enough attention to know how they’ll vote in November. Plus, anything can happen between now and that last week of October.
The one sure bet — always pick the incumbents (unless they’ve been indicted or caught with their hands in the cookie jar).
I agree with you. The country wants a change in leadership but I doubt that will happen unless something spectacular happens in the Bush administration that will lead to a collapse.
Frank Rich has a wonderful piece on this very topic in todayâ€™s New York Times. Frank feels with Karl Rove back at the helm and with Donald Rumsfeld in Roveâ€™s pocket to be offered up as the â€œsacrificial October pawnâ€ to satiate those who want change in the Iraq war, no meaningful change in the majority party power will happen.
I don’t think the Democrats have anything compelling to add to the mix that will be convincing enough to toss out Republican incumbents.
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