It’s hard having the equivalent of the technology used to land the space shuttle on your desk every day: the incredible reach and power of that personal computer can be a seductive thing.
It can find you 40 million pictures of cute kittens — it can let you photoshop a squirrel into your best friend’s wedding photos. It can find tattoo mistakes and Facebook nightmares.
It can also find horrendous darkness.
And sometimes, it can suddenly fail to find something, too. Something that you’re absolutely sure used to be there.
The electronic routes that used to lead you to then-opposition leader Stephen Harper’s comments on the Gomery Inquiry have been cut: old comments from Harper about the need for prime ministers to take responsibilities for the things that happen in their offices have vanished.
I don’t want to be seen as picking on the Tories, but with two different flavours of Conservatives in office at the provincial and federal level, it’s hard not to use them as examples. So here goes, on a provincial level: go to the provincial Progressive Conservative website,
And it’s not just political parties: you can, for the moment, go in and download the provincial Tories’ 2011 Policy Blue Book. The book goes by the title “New Energy.” It gives a pretty clear roadmap of what the party is planning for a legislative agenda, and it’s just one of a series of Blue Books put out by the party.
What’s no longer on the website? Any of the earlier Blue Books: they are gone, unless you had the foresight to save one on your hard drive.
Some things never make it to the paperless world: scores of companies, including law firms and construction companies, bought large and expensive advertisements in the PC party’s annual convention handbook. The 48 pages of business ads in this year’s booklet are interesting, along with the party’s fundraising information and resolutions. It’s not going to make it online. You can, however, see 227 photographs from the event, including scrambled eggs being served.
The provincial Liberals? Their campaign commitments, even from 2011, have completely vanished off their website.
Sometimes things live on, and Google or other search methods can find snapshots or mirrors of the originals: fact is, though, that the Internet is not the peerless record-keeper that you might imagine. It’s still a whole bunch of different storefronts, where the store owner gets to decide what’s going to stay in the window.
And it’s not just political information. During the process leading up to the approval of the Hebron project, the hearing had just about the best online presence you could imagine for evidence, documents and even testimony. It’s all gone now, deemed to be ancient history and boxed up somewhere in the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board library.
Businesses try, too, but often their mistakes — tasteless ads or indefensible positions by company officials — get snapped up by watchful web viewers and stored elsewhere before they can be vaporized. There are a legion of eyes on the web, and they can be pretty skilled at grabbing things that are up online, even if they are there for mere minutes.
Why do some things manage to vanish? It costs essentially nothing to keep past documents online; the only real reason to take them down is because you no longer want them to be seen, or because they have no particular purpose any more. Photos of Danny Williams? They’ve pretty much been remaindered off the Tory website. He was that guy who once did something …
You don’t even have to take them down; you can hide them effectively by shifting the links that used to lead to them.
The problem with depending on the electronic universe to protect information is that keeping information there is a spotty thing. The college picture of drunken you with a wastepaper bucket on your head, giving everyone the finger, may pop up at any time, especially when a prospective employer is Googling your name.
If you’ve had intimate photos leaked by a hateful former partner, not only can it be impossible to get the snaps down, but they can wind up being reposted almost anywhere. But something as transitory as the commitments of political parties? They can vanish at the whim of a webmaster.
Web today, gone tomorrow. It’s worth keeping in mind.
Russell Wangersky is editorial page editor of the St. John’s Telegram. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.