Textual Materialism

One of the things studied as an exchange student was “literature science” — i.e. the science of creating literature. We talked about authors who created texts, and then the author as individuals, separated from the text, the author of the completed work, and so on.

When you share an idea with someone — when you say “good morning” — then you, too, are an author. The medium is rather transient: Air.

There is a saying in German: “Papier ist geduldig” (paper is patient — ideas can last a long time if / when they are written down). There are texts I have written decades ago that may be discovered in some closet, only to come back years later and haunt me.

When we walk barefoot on the beach, we usually do not think much about our footprints — and if we do, we probably notice mostly how quickly they are washed away. When archeologists dig up bones, fossils and what not, I wonder if they ever think: “what would happen if I, too, became fossilized?” I doubt anyone thinks that our geological time may at some point become known as the “plastic age”.

People rarely think about the traces they leave behind. They rarely even think of themselves as authors in any fashion at all. When they say “good morning” or “good night”, they think of these things as if they existed only in the present moment. They may remember what they said later, but still they usually believe that “text” is gone forever.

Online media can be overwritten, and often are overwritten. Expecting data to exist forever online probably sounds almost as ridiculous as writing laws into the sand on the beach. Few people realize that their every utterance is probably being recording for eternity — not in the author’s own book, but rather in databases maintained by Google, Facebook, et. al.

If these companies ever had financial problems, I wonder if they could make money by releasing such data (or perhaps by promising to continue to keep the secrets they have recorded).

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