Missing (Digital) Stuff

Where does stuff go? And I don’t mean I’m trying answer such vexing questions as: How can one sock go missing?

Instead, and more significantly, where does stuff “published” on the Internet go?

The claim – and high school and college students are constantly being admonished about this – is that once something appears on the Web, it’s there forever.

Is it?

Of late, the “right to be forgotten” has been advanced in various circles. It is, perhaps, a corollary to the “right to be ignored.” Which is distantly related to the “right not to know.”

My graduate assistant, who is busy conducting “library research” (read: Google) on my behalf was at first stymied by the stunning lack of information on the subject. Google, he dutifully reported after spending seconds searching, revealed only one review of a best-selling book published in 1954.

This cannot be true, I said. Let me introduce you to the old fashioned Google: the “Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature.”

There, in the ancient and well-worn green colored bound volumes, were dozens and dozens of citations for reviews of the book. Locating them took patience-trying under two minutes. I know, I know: it took two minutes.

A recent column by Alex Beam in the Boston Globe (November 13, “Don’t Speak, Memory”) argues that the medium most perfectly suited for updating and correction (the Web) cannot be relied on for updating and correction.

He cites Georgetown University professor Meg Leta Ambrose and her discussion of “linkrot” (missing, incomplete, erroneous Weblinks) and her characterization of the Web as “a lazy historian.”

A historian uninterested in preserving history. All of the history.

A historian bored by such trivia as providing corrections (never mind clarifications or explanations) to previously published errors.

Beam’s complaint is that at least some Internet corrections disappear. And, he asserts, instead of corrections, the original text should be altered to reflect the correction.

Which, of course, leads us to the question of WHAT is the original text. The idea that still resides in my head? My pen and paper (the backs of napkins, to be accurate) notation? The draft I committed to a Word document? In its first rendition or the edited one?

My head is starting to hurt. How ‘bout yours?

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