Social Hardware

“Textual history teaches us that authors have been taking back their words for a long, long time (in the form of variants and revisions and new editions), and that ‘their’ words, as we read them on the page, might or might not originate with the person named on the title sheet. In other words (so to speak), the textual critic knows that all writing is, of necessity, social.” Matthew G. KirschenbaumSocial Hardware (Matthew G. Kirschenbaum)

Kirschenbaum cites Adrian Johns’s observation that (in K’s words) “that the trustworthtiness and reliability of the printed word is a relatively recent development, born of a concerted effort by the modern publishing industry and not print’s ‘natural’ tendency toward stability and fixity.”

I was thinking a little more about folk authorship as it appears on the Internet, where it seems most changes are additive — comments tacked on at the bottom of the page, blog posts marching across pages of archives, blogrolls swelling in length.

But maybe the most significant way that the Internet changes is simply that pages disappear — whether the author takes them down deliberately, or (as in my own case) the author moves, and takes on a new URL as a sign of a new affiliation.

As a compromise between chaos and fixity, I like the idea of saving old versions of texts. I like the idea, but I’m too lazy to bother saving versions of my own texts. Well, shortly before each major site-wide change I make a copy of the whole website… but the chance of anyone out there actually needing a particular version of one of my pages is probably insignificant.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to ping The Wayback Machine, to ask it to archive a particular page for posterity?

(Checks Google.)

Lo and behold… if you use the Alexa toolbar or you click on “Show Related Links” (MS Internet Explorer), the Wayback Machine will check the site within a few days and the archive will appear six months later.