The Internet is Written in Ink

With the title, I make reference to a line from The Social Network, where a scorned, admittedly wronged, ex-girlfriend tells her ex-boyfriend just what his online comments about her meant. She makes a good point: when you write something online it is permanent. Even if you delete it, it could have been copied. It is a little-known fact that our dear friend Google regularly “caches” websites, so that the past information remains available, even when you’re offline. Next time you do Google search, check out the little blue text after the URL. I don’t know how long those old caches remain, but I have no doubt that once something was ever posted to the internet, no amount of deleting could stop someone from finding it if they looked hard enough.

What I really mean to say by all this is that it has given me cause to consider my history of contributions to the internet. Over the past 9 or 10 years, I have contributed an amount of information that is average for someone in my generation. I’ve had three online blogs that I used regularly, including this one. I had a personal website for about 5 years that I no longer maintain. I became a facebook user in December, 2005 (before the high school and college networks merged, and WAY before it became public for everyone). However, all of that information is private or protected except for this blog.

A Google search of my name reveals some articles from my university website, some of my undergraduate research contributions to my field, and a few other random hits related to my undergraduate life. I am available for public search on Facebook, but all of my information is protected, and my facebook page is not searchable on Google. Actually, I just discovered something fascinating… Apparently, every Buzz post that you ever make is visible to the whole internet, unless you specifically designate it as private. So, I just deleted all 12 Buzz posts I’ve ever made and will never make another. All my “Google Profile” has now is my first name and a photo. As it should be.

Honestly I’ve never felt a sense of regret about anything I’ve posted to the internet. Even the Buzz posts were trivial – I just regret the Google published them publicly with out my knowledge. Most of that information has not been made available to people I don’t know. And because I have not ever chosen to do things in my life that would get me in trouble, I have nothing to hide. I think the only thing I have done wrong recently (and will continue to do wrong for the foreseeable future) is to place two spaces after the period at the end of a sentence. I don’t care that some WordPress blog told me that it’s wrong; I still think it looks better that way.

I will most likely continue to be an active Facebook user at least as long as the majority of my friends still use it. I find it difficult to believe that there could be a better way of keeping in touch with people I know when we are apart. Facebook is so useful in setting up phone calls and Skype calls, among other things. For the friends who love close to me, I use Facebook to arrange plans, but I will still see them. Facebook doesn’t take away face-to-face gatherings when they are possible. In other words, I see no negatives in my personal Facebook experience, and would sooner give up the internet as a whole than deactivate my account.

All of this technological pondering was inspired by my viewing of The Social Network earlier this evening. It really was a fascinating movie, even if the real events did not transpire as dramatically. It made me aware of how grateful I am for the technology that was invented by a few twenty-something college students. But oddly enough, I am glad the timing of facebook worked out when it did for me. I didn’t get facebook until right before I graduated from high school, and in a way, facebook differentiated the high school and college experience for me. It’s as difficult for me to imagine high school with facebook as it is for me to imagine life now without it.

But getting back to my title thought… The internet is written in ink, and I’m sure that no matter how secure we think our information is, the way my generation shares things online is likely to have some surprising consequences for our future. One consideration I have struggled with in the past is the role of websites in handling the online accounts of people who have died. If a person really is private in their passwords, no one they know has the power to delete their online persona. And yet, how does one prove to a website like Facebook that they are no longer living. Is it the role of Facebook to delete the account of someone who has died? I think that this and may other issues may be a growing concern as the use of the internet grows to span all generations and becomes an even more inextricable part of all of our lives.

FYI: As a curiosity, I recently determined that it is possible to view your Google search history. This is only possible if you have a Google/Gmail account, and so it only tracks those searches since that account was started. Possibly, it only tracks searches when you are logged in to that account, but it is difficult for me to say, as I am logged in to my Gmail account about 99% of the time that I am online. Perhaps when you are using your personal computer, it matters not whether you are logged in. Given those criteria, it turns out that I have completed over 6000 Google searches since August, 2008. That’s just shy of 7 Google searches per day. For some reason, that number seems too small, but it is still quite interesting.

Update on Google search experiment: It turns out that if you simply go to and are not logged in to your account, the web searches are not tracked. It’s only when you use the Google search box (for example, inside the Firefox browser or URL bar) or when you are logged in to Google that the results are tracked.


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One response to “The Internet is Written in Ink”

  1. I Write says :

    What an interesting post on the gamut of things we need to consider in relation to our online activities. You have articulated it well and given us much to think about.

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