With Apologies to W.H. Auden

A place to keep wordsHistorically, the written word was stored on the medium used to create it, so the idea that one might have no idea where the words had gone, immediately after their creation, would have been unthinkable. Stone, parchment, or paper, the words had a known location for the lifetime of the medium on which they were stored. Today, that isn't necessarily the case.

The technology responsible for this new possibility—our blogs, Web sites, or similar Internet-enabled communication tools—is the same technology that has now made it possible to type our words on a keyboard, press a virtual button or two, then watch those words appear at what seems to be a particular place on the Net. But that address—that URL—isn't where the words have gone, really. Unless the physical location of the disk upon which those words have just been encoded is known, they could be almost anywhere. And the more extensive the network, the less likely one's words might be tracked down. Google's blogging system, for example, virtually guarantees that every word I've sent into the blogosphere resides at one or more unknown positions on Google's vast computing grid. Where are my words?

I don't know. Most of the time I don't care, but sometimes I stop and wonder where they are, and how they're doing. Are they free? Are they happy? I know what you're thinking: the questions are absurd. After all, had anything been wrong, I should certainly have heard.


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