With great power comes great responsibility

No, fellow fans, I’m not going to write about Spider-Man today, but I am going to come to the same conclusion that Uncle Ben did.

Wednesday I banged out a blog post, as I often do, by copying from my journal and rearranging what I had penned onto the pages to form (hopefully) something more coherent. Among my points was this:

“I’m still a little amazed at the book publishing revolution, how an independent author can bypass an army of gatekeepers to march onto the virtual shelves.”

I read it over, posted the post here, and I posted a link on Facebook. An hour later, I checked to see if it resonated with anyone (we are such vain creatures) and noticed that I had typed “mark” instead of “march”:

“I’m still a little amazed at the book publishing revolution, how an independent author can bypass an army of gatekeepers to mark onto the virtual shelves.”

I fixed the typo, and only that first half-dozen or so readers ever saw it.

Then I got to thinking: Once upon a time, getting that little bit of writing to you would have taken time, to print it out and distribute, and fixing the typo would have taken even more time, and however many copies I had printed with the typo would always be out there.

That’s why the memory hole in Nineteen Eighty-Four always seemed a little unrealistic to me: No matter how many changes you made to history and how hard you tried to erase the past, there would always be a printed record somewhere. As disposable as newspapers are, you still can’t guarantee that you’ve destroyed every copy.

But now, the memory hole is nearly perfect: I can fix a typo in the time it takes to retype the word. It was a minute or two between finding “mark” and making it “march.”

Of course, anyone who ever regretted a stupid Tweet knows that caches and screen shots can preserve anything, but it’s much easier these days to make stuff disappear without anyone knowing. As someone who spent most of his adult life writing “the first draft of history,” it’s a little scary knowing how easy it is to delete a first draft, or any draft, or any finished product.

It’s a super power compared to print-based communication, and it’s another reason to advocate for keeping the printing presses going.

Any power, of course, can be used for good or for evil. May we always be vigilant to ensure we use it for good, and may we always be vigilant to spot when it’s used for evil.

Because, well, with great power comes great responsibility.

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