The Internets, like other young men, hold grudges. The issue is not your own desire or need to change. It is enemies’ and opponents’ desire and need to stop you from doing that.

For longtime Internet users

The burden of past work makes you feel like you can never change your mind. Those with long memories and good search skills – few in number but armed to the teeth – can accuse you of hypocrisy and back it up with your own words. They conduct a gotcha campaign like an operative from a rival political party, with equal bloodlust.

Everything you did yesterday and last year is viewed as a guarantee of what you will do tomorrow and next year. But what if you are facing an upheaval? What if you’re getting divorced, or you left the Mormon church? What if you’re ashamed of a major upheaval? What if you lost your job and can’t find another one?

What if you’ve just been keeping things quiet all these years, like being a devout Mormon? Or keeping your spouse’s name quiet but not a secret, just out of probity? What if you decide to talk more about something you never particularly hid?

Can you make important changes like these imaginary examples? Once you do, at that point whatever you write is at odds with what you wrote before. Won’t people insist that proves you’re a hypocrite?

What if you have matured or simply changed and you want to do things differently? Will people let you? Will you hold back because you think people will criticize you for having changed your mind?

What makes you afraid to change your mind? Isn’t it other people?

For new Internet users

Every new platform attracts stupider and stupider people and induces them to act nastier and nastier. From E-mail software that defaults to top-posting (yes, it really is as bad as I have been telling you) to Twits to Tumblrs, the latter of which are at root cyberbullying media, the simpler it is to go online the trashier the results. LiveJournal and MySpace should have been a warning: The smartest people got online early. Then there’s everybody else.

I disagree with paternalistic predictions that young people today will come to regret all the personal details they publish. Eventually we will greet the first elected head of state with a portfolio of “embarrassing” party pics indistinguishable from the voters’.

But by then all those people will have become experienced Internet users, albeit of a different and worse Internet, and they too will find it is nearly impossible to articulate a significant change to anything important in their lives.


Anonymous online comments have caused tremendous harm to modern society. Comments sections in general are an insidious danger unless proven otherwise and ruthlessly patrolled. Even then, it is the patrolmen who suffer from the comments, not completely unlike police officers who must watch child pornography so they can testify in court that it really was that.

Wolves lurk in the forest. In my 20th year online, I know that trying to start over or doing something different or just changing your mind carries so much risk of attack and vituperation as to become a deterrent.

I have completely changed my mind about one thing: The permanence of records. I no longer believe you should never rewrite or delete something you once wrote, assuming you have no intent to deceive. In many cases you can specify what you changed or at least say why. Rewriting the past is not always Orwellian.

But will everybody else let you do it? Aren’t you afraid to try? Hasn’t your own experience proven to you how quickly the mob bares its fangs?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.03.03 16:25. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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