My data I own, my internet presence I rent. It’s interesting to think about how this situation differs from that of my published books and print essays. It’s possible for anyone to download this entire site — that’s what wget does, and I’ve used it to download my old Text Patterns blog to my hard drive — but I’m sure no one else ever has, so if anything were to happen to shut down this site or that old blog, then anyone interested in what I’ve written online would have to hope that the Internet Archive and its partners have the whole thing crawled and saved.
But if you’ve bought one of my books, or a journal in which one of my essays appears, then even if I were to suffer Damnatio memoriae, you’d still have those texts, and it’s impossible for me to imagine a world in which anyone would go to the trouble of taking them away from you.
So does that mean that I should focus my attention on writing for print publication instead of online venues like this blog? That would make sense if I wanted to ensure that people are still reading my work after I’m dead — but that would be ridiculous for a writer as insignificant as I am. As I often say, it’s quite likely that I will outlive all my work, and I’m just fine with that. So I’ll write in venues that give me pleasure, that seem fitting for whatever interests me at the moment. And then, one day, if I get the chance to set my affairs in order, I’ll hand over to my family a stack of notebooks and a hard drive full of text files, for them to do with as they please.
Alan Jacobs captures something of how I feel about writing on the web. Amazingly, I’ve been messing around with a website since spring 1998. I designed something on GeoCities. My web presence has had other iterations, more than I can count. Maybe at some point I thought that work would endure, but I don’t think that anymore.
I write for pleasure and for the same reason a lot of other writers write: because I have a desire to connect with other people, a desire to do the work, and a desire to discover what I think through what I write.
As for artifacts, I won’t be handing over text files, but I will leave behind notebooks. As for whether or not there will be anything in them of interest of value, that will be for others to decide.