#806: Invisible Ink

June 21st, 2017

Over the winter, I met with a bright, energetic, early-20s writer who wanted to do a story on me for a local arts website.

I think I made him sad.

We met at the Bucktown mainstay Map Room, an early adopter of the fancy beer thing in an increasingly fancy neighborhood. The bar’s done well with its crowd, aged along with it. Fewer rowdy nights, more graying neighbors using the place to set up a laptop and do the coffeeshop thing with a seasonal winter ale from a Trappist abbey in Belarus or somesuch.

The young writer and I met and we ended up talking for over an hour on everything from URL domain registration to the role of art in society.

The story never ran.

I think it was probably just that he got busy and successful and the concept of transcribing an hour of tape recorded conversation was so daunting it kept getting put in the back of the line until it felt like a deadline had passed. I know my 2014 interview with the trans zookeeper was similarly fascinating and procrastinated into nonexistence.

One of the things we talked about in the vanished interview is vanished words. For those of us who write, work, live online, everything we do will vanish.

It will. Any thought of permanence is a lie.

It’s a function of using an evolving technology for things we have pretension of permanence. Please play me a Betamax tape. Please let me know what’s on that 8-track where the label fell off.

Aside from the flammability, water damage and occasional forced censorship that endangers all works (back up that climate data, government researchers), words and more visual arts had a built-in shelf life. A book is a book is a book. It might get misshelved, burnt or tossed in a closet, but there’s a feasibility to someone discovering it, dusting it off and revealing the words you felt good enough about to consign to paper.

Even if no magnets or server fires destroy the file, after a few years, this sentence will disappear forever.

I might decide to keep the paying 1&1 for my server space years after the project hits 1,001 stories and I get to stop working. But I’ll die someday and my kids’ kids’ kids will not feel like paying in perpetuity to keep great-great’s ramblings about commutes and hipsters alive. Hell, sometimes I don’t want to either.

Even if there are archives and the post-Singularity human/machine nonduality still reads html and the cobbled bits of CSS I toyed around with in the WordPress stylesheet for the Oulipo theme, how will anyone find this blog? There’s no chance for stumbling in the internet world, no equivalent of poking around dusty bookshelves at a yard sale, store or library and falling in love with what you find.

The machines deliver exactly what you’re looking for, maybe a suggestion or two they want to sell you on the side. Something specific will never be searched for. Something free will never be suggested by the customer preference algorithm.

I meant these to be inspiring to the writer in the wintery craft beer bar, but I think I made him sad.

I meant them to be inspiring because there is still good in the printed word. There is still good in the tactile. There’s good in ink and paper and that quality of being that creates something new rather than repackage, retweet, reblog and give a hot take on someone else’s idea. Writers and visual need to address the impermanence actors, musicians, dancers and gourmet chefs had to address long ago — remember thou art mortal.

We can still create knowing what we create is impermanent, I meant to tell him over a craft beer that would disappear forever once it touched my lips. But I didn’t, and his story never ran.

Preserving a lifestyle people tried to destroy

Preserving old news in plastic

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