In July 2010, law professor Jeffrey Rosen published a piece in The New York Times Magazine called “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.” In it, he discusses the phrase “Gone to Texas,” which originated in America during the 19th century frontier times when debtors or the disenfranchised would leave town in pursuit of a new life in the still unsettled region of Texas. Those dissidents would usually put a sign on their home that said, “Gone to Texas” or “G.T.T.”, implying, essentially: “I’m starting over as someone else –- leave me alone!” Rosen argues that this kind of liberation was crucial to the American spirit, representing the ways in which this new society is not beholden to the sins of their own forbearers or their misbegotten youth. Rosen goes on to argue that this kind of a liberation is relatively impossible in the digital age. No one can just “go to Texas” anymore, and in his words, “the worst thing you’ve done is also the first thing that everyone knows about you.”
I’m so glad I did see the full article. I know I’ve left my fair share of digital debris, but at 35 I don’t need to worry about childish mistakes on the web – I was (on the whole) already old enough to know better when I first started using the internet frequently in the mid 1990s. But I’m also a father of two boys under five. Will they ever be held hostage by their future actions online, or will all of their contemporaries be similarly compromised?