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July 23, 2007

Using The Medium [10:02 am]

Crossing Out, for Emphasis

For Dickens, the strike-through — a visible line drawn through a word or sentence — was a way to erase a word from the reader’s eye (and indeed the stricken sections from his manuscripts didn’t appear in the printed versions of his books).

But in Internet culture, the strike-through has already taken on an ironic function, as a ham-fisted way of having it both ways in type a witty way of simultaneously commenting on your prose as you create it.

Writers on the Internet don’t know how good they have it. They can only play around so casually with their own “corrections” because they are so easy to make. (If you were truly worried about conveying basic meaning unprecedented insights about communication, you wouldn’t mess around with editing tools.)

This facility in writing, rewriting and overwriting is seemingly a breakthrough unique to the Internet Age, although the strike-through itself dates back to at least medieval manuscripts .

[...] Karl Fogel, president of the Subversion Corporation, which produces open-source version control software, says illustratively that in Subversion’s case, “the command that shows what person touched what file is called Blame.” He said that after someone objected, the software was changed to include the duplicate command, Praise, “but no one uses it,” he quickly added.

Mr. Fogel is one of those creators of technology who see more than the mere convenience of what he is bringing to the world. He sees its power to shape public behavior.

Think of what version control software could mean for the Congress, he was quoted as saying recently at Tim O’Reilly’s blog . If bills were created under a system where strike-throughs and additions were carefully tracked, the public would know which legislator made which change to a proposed piece of legislation as it made its way through the Capitol.

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