Monday, October 24, 2011

You Are What You Write

The title of this topic, at least my first contact with these words, comes from an on-line manual titled Producing Open Source Software by Karl Fogel. The author introduces the topic thusly:

Consider this: the only thing anyone knows about you on the Internet comes from what you write, or what others write about you. You may be brilliant, perceptive, and charismatic in person—but if your emails are rambling and unstructured, people will assume that's the real you. Or perhaps you really are rambling and unstructured in person, but no one need ever know it, if your posts are lucid and informative.

In my opinion the truthiness of this topic goes far deeper than Fogel's pleasant comparisons. "You are what you write" is really quite primal - more like Descartes's "I think therefore I am". I think life becomes "I write therefore I am". For example, I exist only because you are reading these words.

Most likely you have never met me and never will. You may well be reading these words long after I am dead. The only apperception you have of my existence is the words you are reading right now. Even if you do know me, these words may be showing a side of my being that you had never considered - and therefore this side of my personality had not existed for you until now.

There is nothing new here. Coming back to the present, the history - the existence of those who lived in previous eras – that we have today is a history of intellectual men. Why? Because it was these people that had the education and time to write down their thoughts or write down the thoughts of others. If these intellectual men did not write a description of an event than that event has almost no existence today.

Do note that there is a complete revolution underway with the process of writing history. Facebook saves absolutely everything that everybody and anybody does on Facebook. The same thing is true in Twitter, YouTube and almost any Web service. At the same time universities are saving college papers, businesses are saving their employee documents and e-mails. Organizations are saving text messages and other data sent from machine to machine such as location data. Much of what people say and do from now on will be saved forever.

As I've said in an earlier post, the historian of the future will have a much easier time finding data than the historian of the past.

But we are just at the beginning of this revolution. The interesting thing is that at this moment only a very small percentage of the people actually write anything down or have anything written down about them that is available publicly.

And yet at sometime in the future the only things we will know about this era will be the things that happened to have been written down.

You are what you write. When all is said and done, you will be what you have written. It's a fascinating thought and I will double-click into aspects of this thought in several upcoming posts. And before signing off, let's just give a big hello to the people of the future...

1 comment:

  1. It's hard to read your post in any light but untrammeled enthusiasm for the preservation of what we write. "Facebook saves absolutely everything ... [So does] Twitter, YouTube ... universities .., businesses ... and e-mails. Much of what people say and do ...will be saved forever. [W]e are just at the beginning of this revolution." Nowhere in all this do you express alarm.

    Moore's Law presumably applies to handwriting-recognition software. It's easy to imagine programs that convert eighteenth-century diaries and letters into editable Times Roman.

    But suppose some vindictive person has kept a silly letter I wrote when I was seventeen. What if some weird teacher has saved essays and test papers and now, to my humiliation, puts them up on Facebook. I don't write on social media precisely because my words will live forever, but in 1957 I didn't know they were going to invent the computer. I can imagine Theo would be more amused than horrified if some stranger published his juvenilia. Most people would be enraged, but there's no redress.

    I love the iCloud because I alone have the encryption key. When I die, my life's work, thinking, writing and communication will die with me. It's a lovely thought. After Apple has received no payment for a couple of years they will overwrite the space. Of course, other people may have saved my emails and blog postings, but these survivors are pre-determined by me.