The brave promise of this new content source is that it does (at least) three things: first, it levels the opportunity to publish; second, it adds a multitude of voices and perspectives; third, it brings precisely this evanescence, this sense of fleeting thought and all of its freshness to readers. And a fourth thing that is inevitable: it will turn readers into writers.
Sterling worries about the lack of archiving of internet communication. "Today, our beliefs are like fireflies – they shine for a few brief moments, but then they disappear, and no one knows where they went," he says. Madoff suggests that the best of today's digital writing may remain available to future generations as established online publications embrace citizen journalism and, possibly, put some of that content into print.
Sterling's comments, though, also deal with email, which may not be retained the way letters used to be.
More readers, as Madoff notes, are turning into writers. Yet, preserving our thoughts is far more complicated than when we used paper and pen.
Do people retain personal emails with the thought that their children or grandchildren (or future historians) might want to read them? Do they print the best to ensure that their survivors won't have to wade through a maze of Outlook email folders or, worse, have to extract old emails from a format or storage medium that's no longer in use? Did people learn a lesson from the legal battle that a dead marine's family waged this year and won, getting Yahoo! to provide access to the young man's web-based email account?
When I was growing up in the Midwest, we used to try to catch fireflies and put them in a bottle to try to make a bright light. This analogy is breaking down a bit, but what I take from it is the value of picking out the shining lights and finding a way to preserve them before they fade. (I think there's a way to work mosquitoes into this thought, but I'm going to stop right here.)