Sunday, 25 November 2012

My generation and the Internet

I belong to the test generation. A generation that will be the first to experience being born with the internet and growing old with it and its consequences.

Every time an adult tells us about the internet the repeatedly tell us that everything we do in the confines of cyberspace will be there permanently. Remember, they tells us, you will never be able to get it back. Once it is there it will always be there for the rest of time. They tell us to tread carefully, tread very carefully.

Our lives will be carefully mapped out on the internet for anyone who really wants to see. There are our Facebook profiles, there are our blogs and tweets. Comments we wrote on other people’s posts, message boards and forums that we posted to. There’s the email groups we’ve sent to on Yahoo! and Google. It is all there, readily available, carefully archived, and easy to find. There is no hiding from it.

There isn’t a generation before us that has to experience this. Any comments they made as teenagers were absorbed and lost into the sound-scape that is conversation; they weren’t recorded and archived. Any writing they did was most likely confined to their English books or letters written, all of which – by now – is either rotting in the bottom of a linen cupboard or has been thrown out and pulped, recycled into toilet paper. It hasn’t been recorded for all to see and read, and comment on, online. The generations before ours didn’t have to worry about a reputation that they created for themselves online as immature teenagers. They have left their immature selves behind, forgotten, leaving just the reputation that they’ve created as responsible adults.

It won’t be easy for us. We will still be dealing with what we wrote and said online as teenagers and children. We will still be mopping up after our countless accounts to all sorts of online services, some of which may embarrass us in our adult lives. We will have come along in our motorbikes and done wheelies on the neat gravel that is the internet. We will have mucked up, but the gravel won’t erode and be raked again; it is like the Moon. In cyberspace the wind doesn’t blow, everything is permanent. The skids will be there forever with guided tours for whoever is interesting in seeing them.

How careful should we be online? No one really knows. By the time that my generation is having children it will be know what is a good level of caution and what is not. At the moment it is a bit of a guess, assumptions, hunches, ideas. Should teenagers not be allowed to browse the internet, or not be allowed to post to it? Should they be protected from themselves?

Celebrities and those in the public eye didn’t have to grow up with the internet. They came to it as responsible adults, not immature adults. Those of us in my generation that become famous won’t be getting a clean slate on the internet when they reach fame, their previous un-famous, self will be three, too. Anyone will be able to look at how this person was before they were famous, how they acted, who they were. They might try really hard to hide from it, but it will all be there, even if it is under layers and layers of new content. the old will still be there, hidden but not forgotten.

My generation will have to live with what we put on the internet now. It will be a permanent reputation that can’t be morphed into something else with the passage of time. It will be the thing that goes bump in the night, that lurks behind us, that follows us in the street.

My generation is the experiment to see how the permanent  fool-proof date retention effects the human race and its psyche. How will it effect our chances or getting jobs? Being reputable in the public eye?

Everyone has told lies and done stupid things in the past, but they did that in a time where you could move on, you could hide from your mistakes. But now the mistakes will be there for everyone to see. They might be mistakes that don’t cost us in the short run, but in the long run they might cost us our careers and jobs, our reputations.

We are the generation that is living two lives. A real life and a digital life. Before us, before my generation, those two lives were separate – they didn’t every join – but we are the generation that they will and can join, where they have already collided. They will become the same thing, they have become the same thing. Anonymity is there, but the cloak can be revealed to see the old man pushing the levers in the Emerald City.

Everything that we say or do online can, and will, be used against us.



POST SCRIPT: Before you ask what is this doing on a typewriter blog, I can say in my defence that it was drafted on a typewriter and edited with genuine ink out of a fountain pen, so I hope that it still deserves its place here.


  1. This very post is an excellent example of your premise--even after your editing, it is full of typos, which might affect your future as a writer.

    I expect you have a future as a writer because you have a nice skill for analyzing the issues and expressing them compellingly.

    In a way, it is unfair to ask a writer to spend time and effort on the fine points of English because it is enough and more important to capture and express the ideas. And yet your point is that things were different in the past. We no longer have editors to make sure the ideas are presented without confusion; the author must do that too. And if he doesn't do it, he gets a reputation as careless, possibly unemployable.

    I note that none of the typos are incorrect spelling; all form spell-checked words wrongly used (except for the wrong punctuation). This is surely one of the insidious effects of technology--it encourages us to abdicate our duty to our readers, i.e., to be clear. Sloppy punctuation forces a reader to re-read a passage several times, possibly going farther afield into the context each time, to figure out what was meant, or to give up the effort entirely. Worse, it can leave a less conscientious reader with ideas contrary to what the author intended. All effects that the Grammar Allies do not seem to consider. The conventions of language are important because they work.

    On balance, I love your blog and look forward to more. Thanks for the opportunity to amplify your premise this time.

    == Michael Höhne

    1. Thank you for your comment, Michael.
      What I realise is that all teenage writing is trash. That's the honest truth about it all. The thing is, though, that "back in the old days" teenage writing, like mine on this here blog, wouldn't have been shown to the world. If it was published, it would have been in some sort of magaizine where an editor - one who knew the ins and outs of grammar, unlike me - would have fixed up all the issues. This is not how it works at the moment for me with this blog, it is just me hoping that my mistakes don't make me out to be a complete moron; although I'd rather make less of them, let me tell you.
      Editors are the patron saints of any language, and I really think that we need them - they're the little angels that sit on our shoulders and make sure we're writing coherent sentences that are readable and aren't full of errors of all kinds.
      Technology is the downfall of the language, and I'm a culprit to its indoctrination. There's also a attitude shift. Self-editing is a dead art, and no one likes to do it, not even myself. Of course, it would be much better if we did.
      So, I hope, as I grow older I will get better at the fine art of English. I hope also that this trash writing that I'm producing now will work to get me there.
      I really do feel sorry for the world that they now have to, with the advent of technology, suffer through multitudes of teenage ignorance, and the trash writing that they produce.
      But thank you also for the kind words; I'm glad that you like my little blog of [spelling and grammar] errors. Hopefully in the future, though, it will be more a blog of decent writing.

    2. Thanks for taking me seriously. Actually, your writing must be pretty good--after all, I read it.

      Y'know, most of us have learned English (or other native language) through reading--not through school--and up until recently that reading was very well edited, giving us an efficient model for understanding because the pattern was reliably consistent. Now, though, we learn the language through blogs and other writings by people who learned through blogs, and the words and other patterns are no longer reliable. ("There", "their", and "they're" are particularly troublesome in this regard, as are run-on sentences.) So that's why bloggers are so influential. You are teaching the world what's acceptable, useable, useful.

      I suppose you call your writing trash in the sense of throw-away practice. You're right; in the old days it would not have been seen by the world. But that was your original point, that now it hangs around forever. You certainly don't seem to be a moron. Your meaning trumps the occasional problem and you're aware of the situation.

      Funny, but a misspelled word is less harmful than a spell-checked word wrongly used, because the former looks like a finger-slip but the latter looks like the author doesn't know what he's talking about.

      I am a book designer (interiors as well as covers) and I note that about a quarter of the projects we get where the author claims they have been edited ... well, the authors or publishers end up hiring us to edit them again. Maybe it's the zeitgeist but I think that particular ghost feeds on the care-less attitude of the internet's too-easy access.

      But I see what responses your writing and concerns provoked in thoughtful commenters like Robert Messenger and shordzi a couple of days ago and I think you're doing fine.

      == Michael Höhne

    3. Thank you for taking me, and this blog, and me seriously, too.
      That's a really interesting point that you make. Reading poorly edited work will effect our own, I'm sure. I'm sure, too, that it is a bit subconscious. We don't think that we're learning a language while we're reading online. Yes, it is obvious when we're reading books, especially the classics, but I don't think the mind registers it in the same way when we read online.
      I suppose you could say that the blogs of the world are the new pamphlets - the reading that people do for light entertainment or learning, or to be taught. We are important that we get it right and do it will, people read blogs - and although they shouldn't - they think, most often, that it is all true. Especially when you're writing about facts. This is also a responsibility now that what we're writing now is here forever. I think that this responsibility might even help me to get better at writing, because let me tell you: I don't like it when I make a mistake or get in wrong when I'm writing. Even at 99.16% in an English test today I was annoyed. This pressure that is put on by this responsibility should, I think, move me forward in terms of what I can do when it comes to words.
      Thank you, it makes me feel quite nice being told I don't seem like a moron.

      It's sad that even in the book industry, the way you're putting it, that editing isn't seen as the greatest thing you Must do. It's seen as secondary. That's the attitude shift that we really need to reverse.

      Thank you for responding, once again, with great thought and detail to my reply.

    4. Well, Jasper, ("... if that _is_ your real name ..." --Firesign Theater) you have a good point about blogs being like pamphlets. My refuge for periodical literature is the wonderful _New Yorker_ magazine. I find myself reading about subjects in which I have no interest at all, just because the writing is so good. It's amazing that they can find so much good material every week. Well, in New York .... If you're not familiar with it, check your library.

      In book design, I am not connected with any large publisher. I suppose they still have editors but, of course, so many authors don't get to use them and even so, the people being hired as editors nowadays have been raised on the internet. There are fascinating collections of letters between well-known authors and their editors that are very instructive of the deep and wide-ranging concerns involved in polishing a manuscript.

      I think the mind does register in the same way whether we are reading classics or blogs; we absorb the way the words are spelled/used and adopt the same standards. Internet standards, the comments as well as the blogs themselves, are so low now as to be confusing. I have often read comments where I couldn't ascertain whether the writer was insulting the pro or the con side but it didn't matter because he was so inarticulate as to be dismissed. I end up dismissing writers of longer material, too, which means they have wasted their time. My time doesn't matter to them.

      You have earned a lot of my time, as have others in the typosphere. Odd thing, though; for people who profess to revere writing and communication, an awful lot of them are careless of their editing. The misuse of the apostrophe (and _inconsistent_ misuse!) really slows down my reading as I try to figure out why the meaning isn't working. What are they thinking? _Are_ they thinking?

      The apostrophe: a small mark which indicates that the following letter is an "s".

      == Michael

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