Sunday, July 13, 2008


"The writing was washed from parchment or vellum using milk and oat bran. With the passing of time, the faint remains of the former writing would reappear enough so that scholars can discern the text (called the scriptio inferior, the "underwriting") and decipher it." -Wikipedia

A palimpsest is a manuscript page that has been written on, scraped off, and used again. Where faint markings were once laboriously deciphered by scholars, modern science has devised techniques that make previously “lost” text more easily accessible to the trained reader.

In this digital age, it is impossible to permanently erase words and images once they are made public. Blog postings and websites can be removed by their authors, but traces remain that can be retrieved by skillful searchers.

We warn our students that their online identity is a composite of everything they write or upload online. But do we really understand this ourselves? Most of us know about Googling names to gather information on individuals. How many people, though, are aware of Wayback Machine, which can find old websites, or earlier versions of existing websites?

Times change and tools evolve to meet the challenge of those changes. Human nature remains the same. Clay Burell reminded us of the need for diplomacy. If a plea for common decency doesn't impress you, consider this: nothing ever really disappears in cyberspace. It may be hidden or difficult to track, but it is still there somewhere. And there are those who can locate it.

Just so you know.

"A word once uttered can never be recalled." -Horace

Image: Georgian paliphsestV-VI cc.jpg from Wikimedia Commons


Jeanette Johnson said...

A wise and wonderful post.

"Times change and tools evolve to meet the challenge of those changes. Human nature remains the same."

Back before the day of these ubiquitous tools, a wise man advised me of the "24-hour rule" - whenever agitated or emotional, to wait 24 hours before sending, speaking, or doing anything that might look different in the light of a new day. In this era, some might wish for even a 24-minute rule, simply to allow the time for us to sort through the flood of ideas, words, and emotions that come to us as part of our human nature.

If humankind weren't meant to take time, reflect, and choose actions or words wisely, the phrase "I'm sorry" never would have been invented.

Horace's words of caution were never more true!

Kate Olson said...

Great topic, Diane. Thinking before writing could have saved much trauma for many people throughout the ages, that's for sure.

I actually wrote about something similar in my "potty mouth" post on TMG this weekend - I watch myself SO closely online now because I know that my words never do go away, and I'm not ever sure who's reading them.

For people who think things are private because they're password protected or "friends-only" (facebook, etc) - that means NOTHING in the world of screenshots. Just another tidbit for people to think about :-)

Clay Burell said...

Wonderful idea to frame this issue in the palimpsest metaphor (one I've always loved).

JJ, you crack me up with your "24-minute" rule :) How apt!

And let's not forget the simple Google "cached" version - way easier than Wayback Machine, if I get it correctly.

diane said...


My husband flares and is done with it. I need more time to work through all the intricacies of my anger. We have a long history together and can accommodate such differences in style. It's a lot more difficult to handle emotion in public settings. With age, I've gotten better to biting my tongue and giving myself calming down time, but it's a tough lesson for some people to learn.


Since I've just spouted off at Jeannette, I'll second your comment and add a heartfelt Amen!


I'm not sure it the Google caches save the same type of data as Wayback Machine - but they have helped me to circumvent our district filter a few times ;-)

A Keeper's Jackpot said...

This article in the PostStar made me think of this blog post, didn't know if you saw it.

diane said...


I did see that article, and it is a perfect example of my point. When I was looking at Wayback Machine, I saw a comment that the site is increasingly being used by lawyers, both in prosecuting alleged criminals and preparing a defense ("So and so is not the fine, upstanding citizen they claim to be. If you would just take a look at this website, with these photos..."),