In church yesterday, I was reminded by the confession of this proverb: “Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (29:20). Since childhood, I’ve heard this applied to what comes out of our mouths. There’s a surprising number of these exhortations sprinkled throughout the Bible, all pointing to the fact that the tongue can be an awfully dangerous thing and we do well to learn to bridle it.
Point taken. What I found myself considering in church was how this translates across to the digital age. I wonder perhaps if we forget the wisdom of bridling the tongue when it comes to communicating on the internet, since we don’t literally speak the words out loud.
For most of us, a lot of what we say on the web is friendly and pleasant, the equivalent of pleasantries exchanged with acquaintances—hardly a real problem. But for those of us whose vocations require writing, it occurred to me that we would do well to heed this proverb. It’s for our own good. Last week I gave a talk about social media to a group of students, and what I emphasized—and they asked questions about—was the fact that, as Mark Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend tells him in The Social Network, “The internet isn’t written in pencil, it’s written in ink.” That is to say, whatever we say on the web is likely to follow us around—if not for the rest of our lives, at least for a very long time. Nothing’s ever really deleted.
And since most of what we publish gets posted to the web these days, we have to be especially careful. I realize the richness of even writing this on a blog, but blogs can be the trickiest of these things: Our selves change so rapidly, and what we said when we were 25 might be the last thing we want anyone to remember when we’re 35, or 55. But if we wrote it on the web, the web remembers it, and it can be dug up again.
It’s not really the web’s fault, although it does require a bit of a paradigm shift. But, all of this is just to say that writers best think over what they say “on the record” . . . now that the record is a whole lot easier to get on.