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"Vanishing Text"

[written April 18, 2002]

I came up with what could possibly be a cool idea but I didn't have the time to mess with it at all since I'm leaving soon.

Basically what I wanted to do was write a Soapbox that would lose more and more words as it was viewed by more and more people. In essence it would decay as more people read it. The first reader would read the whole thing. The fiftieth reader would only see a few words.

First of all, I know what you're thinking. It's not foolproof; all people would have to do for something interesting would be to cut and paste the first visits to another place where they'd be permanent. Well, it was just supposed to be a fun idea, and not a business prospect. =P

Anyway, it would sort of be cool to represent the oral tradition, or more closely similar, the memory process. The first time something is told, all the information is conveyed reasonably perfectly, but as it is passed along, it loses its quality and faithfulness to the original message.

This idea I suppose could be expanded to allow for some sort of tacking on of new information, like playing that children's game Telephone. Re-tellings of sailors' stories, famous myths, and so on have throughout human history incorporated more and more fabulous and hyperbolic facets to make them even more interesting.

Perhaps one problem with the digital age is that everything can be immortalized perfectly forever. Those old vinyls and movie tapes and old books have an ephemeral quality to them that makes them valuable in a physical way and not just for the info that's contained inside them. What use is it to have a human memory once computers and AI become so advanced that you could link a digital database to your brain? Or have a software assistant to translate languages for you on the fly? Hell, all you need these days to do massive information recall is to use google. All you need to know is, of course, how to use the tools that allow you to access a library of infinite knowledge, the Internet.

Didn't William Gibson or someone try to design some book that would stop being readable after it was read a certain number of times or something? The book is of course available on the Internet now thanks to people who ripped it. =P Oh well, I make no claims to originality.

It's just the idea of having vanishing text appeals me in some weird way. A foil to the norm. The more popular the text became, the less accessible it would be. The first ones to see it would be rewarded most. People would want to be the first ones to see it, but the mere desire to do so would cause a rush of people to make it disappear faster. That whole bullshit about observational science not being applicable to quantum science because once something is observed on the quantum level, it as a result changes. That sort of stuff.

Maybe it'd work better if I had it rearrange sentences more and more as it was visited more. Who knows? I ran the idea past a good friend and we were left thinking it was nice but had nowhere to go.

But shit, I'll find a place for it eventually. =) I like it. If I could just get all my messages no matter where they were published to decay, it'd be perfect. Like, if you could attach a software agent to your messages to take care of them as per your instructions...

Now wouldn't that be cool? Insecure as fuck, but cool. Leaving bits of code with things you spread around... Say, post a message to an online forum and the code would control how quickly words would disappear from your post. Or have it track who read it. Or place it on a web site, and have it act as a tripwire of sorts. Bah. Who knows? Software agents are great and would work great in large numbers and now I've gone tangential. =P Imagine great software agent wars! Web site owners try to clean their sites, other people leaving agents all over them to do whatever!



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