Paper Zines vs. Google – November 2, 2005

A friend asked me today why I’d like to bring back paper zines from the ’80s. I thought about it for .5 nanoseconds and then answered:

I think they were awesome — a way better window into the writer/editor’s creativity, through design that wasn’t constrained by the limits of HTML or a flat screen. Plus, you could say whatever the fuck you wanted, without fearing it would be broadcast to the Internet at large. Your audience had to seek you out, which meant they also were likely not to be, say, your future employer. And you could vanish into history when you were done.

There’s really something to be said for that. Vanishing into history. Vamoose. Kapoof. Gone.

You can’t do that if you’re writing on the Internet, where every snippet of your thoughts will be archived and spewed forth from various search engines for the next X years or even decades.

That’s not to say I’m anti-weblog. Weblogs are good. I dove into my first weblog with my real name and photo plastered front and center without a second thought, knowing I had nothing to fear from being authentically myself.

That was 2002. I guess I was innocent. Because people found me. People I did not intend to reach. Not the strangers or friends whom I gladly counted among my audience, but those people in between. Exes. Distant relatives. Coworkers. I remember my chagrin when a coworker proudly announced he had donated $X to my charity blogging effort. I remember thinking about how the owners of the company likely had read my bloggy thoughts. I remember being distinctly unthrilled.

And now, this pseudo-anonymity. My name is not now attached to my thoughts, and I feel a little safer posting at 3 a.m. with a haze of sleep still in my head, but it would not take much effort to expose this little blog. And I know that. Every time I post, I know that. I ask myself, if only in a deep dark corner of my mind that I don’t like to acknowledge: What would an employer think if they read this? If I ever ran for office, would this blog surface? Would I mind? I don’t think so, but really, who am I to say how I’ll feel five years from now?

These little things, they chip away at what you say, until you’re left with nothing left.

Paper zines were different. They were, in many ways, a temporary creation. They didn’t echo down through the years like a painting of their authors’ thoughts, available to anyone with an Internet connection. There were limited copies. They were perishable. You had to find them. They tended to get lost or thrown in the garbage or recycled. And they were far more honest.

I wonder how much of that kind of writing is to be had much of anywhere, anymore, on the Internet. And where it is, I wonder how much longer it will last. Employers seem increasingly intolerant of employees who show any signs of having a personality outside the office. Words you write today can come back to haunt you 10 years from now. These words could. I know that. So I think before I write, where I used to spew before I thought. If what I write seems less alive, I know it. I hate it. But it still is.

I’ve thought about locking up my thoughts, getting a LiveJournal where I could limit readers to those people I expressly choose. But, aside from being a pain in the ass and forcing people to sign up for yet another online service, that seems to defeat the entire purpose of writing one of these things. Weblogs are open forums, where I can meet other people who intrigue me and hopefully intrigue others on occasion, where I can let off steam and tell jokes and fill out silly surveys and reflect on memories and express new hopes and put to rest old baggage. They’re snapshots of a moment in life, like a photo album in words. I like that. I like sharing that. So I try to strike a balance.

I’m glad Google wasn’t around when I was growing up. I’m glad the diaries I attempted to keep, the stories scribbled out on notebook paper with friends, the school newspaper created on primitive Macs and archived on floppy disks that surely are long dead, the fantasy novel I began writing in a spiral-bound notebook in eighth grade and never finished, are safe from its long reach. They will never be archived. They are mine. They are not the world’s. And that’s just fine with me.

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