"Great minds discuss ideas;
Average minds discuss events;
Small minds discuss people."
The danger of electronic publishing lies in its post-publication alterability.
Text printed, in ink or graphite, on parchment and paper, is more static than text on a webpage.
You, the reader of the latest HarperCollins paperback novel, are an end-user of a product that contains a literary work that is static; no one can alter the text of your copy of the novel without taking physical action. I am not able to subtract a word from the body of text by holding down the Backspace key. Try parting the text on a printed page and insert a new paragraph of text. Amateur action might even result in the book being defaced beyond worthiness as a gift.
Words, photos and videos posted online are dynamic data that can be altered from time to time, by you or by someone else.
John visits a website and reads an article on ‘prenuptial agreements’; the next day, Max visits the same website and reads the same article – only it isn’t really the same, because a few words have been removed.
Lucy typewrites an article on ‘interethnic cooperation’ and publishes it to her blog; the next day, she is shocked to find her article altered to include cleverly-worded insults against a particular ethnic group. Sensing the trouble she can get into for such racist comments attributed to her name, she attempts to log into her account with the blog service provider, but fails. She tries again, and fails. After several more tries, it becomes apparent that her password has been changed. Denied access to content management, Lucy goes to bed worried.
LOCKING IT DOWN
With reference to several hardcover books and a dusty encyclopedia volume, Sandra uses a word processor to produce a report on transatlantic passenger liners. She runs the document through a distiller and out comes a PDF file. She opens the file, moves the cursor and selects (i.e. highlights) a phrase. She performs a right-click and looks for the ‘Copy’ function on the drop-down menu; there is no ‘Copy’ function.
Because of certain settings Sandra has chosen for the distiller program, the text in her PDF file cannot be copied and pasted into, say, a new blank Microsoft Word Document. The text is locked down into the PDF file!
Furthermore, Sandra does not allow changes to her PDF file – including editing text and adding or removing pages.
Sandra sends the PDF file to her lecturer via e-mail.
PRINT ON PAPER
Information on the Internet can also be removed by accident or at will. A body of text, e.g. a news report, can be online one day and unobtainable the next.
Jennifer submits a research paper (printed and bound) on ‘television and its influence on young children’. Appended to this paper is a list of references. Jennifer’s teacher flips through the list, selects a particular URL and proceeds to check its authenticity.
Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage
The teacher grimaces. She thinks the URL might be a fake reference, but she isn’t jumping to conclusions.
Jennifer is summoned and, fortunately, she possesses a printout of the webpage that her teacher is unable to access. The teacher peers at the URL near the bottom of the printout.
Jennifer didn’t provide a false reference. The webpage was taken down two days ago.
Will Lucy be persecuted for stuff she did not write?
The post-publication alterability of online content necessitates wisdom and shrewdness in the ingestion and consumption of online content.
The article you read may not be the work of the author whose name you see below the title. A few clicks later, and you peruse an article that has actually been corrupted by the rage-inducing phrases of a race supremacist you know cannot be the Member of Parliament whose name is emblazoned at the bottom of the page. Why? Because just a few hours ago you saw the original version, and the original version can also be found in yesterday’s newspaper, a copy of which you still have on the coffee table across the room.
If I were to use correction fluid to blot out a string of words in a copy of Cecelia Ahern’s PS, I Love You and replace it with an expletive, I would still have more than a hundred thousand copies to deal with. Hence, the best safeguard for the articles and essays you write may be to make hard copies of every article and essay that you write, and to disseminate those hard copies to other people for proofreading, safekeeping and archiving.
And make sure you keep at least one copy for yourself. ■