Erasing Painful Memories Discussion

In real life you often cannot erase painful memories. They can last a lifetime. On the Wiki however, painful memories can be erased. Not everybody agrees this is a good idea.

Well, perhaps both excellent and correct, but an answer which fundamentally changes my relationship to Wiki. I think Wayne's comparison to a tape-recording is misleading; Wiki is not a push-style medium, and so nobody forces anybody to read these pages. For me, deleting these pages is tantamount to destroying old and irreplacable journal entries. Yes, they often contain embarrasing and painful material. But they remind ourselves and others that who we are now is very much influenced by who we have been. I would have preferred that the material be left in place -- both the material removed by Sam and that removed by subsequent "editors". I don't like the idea that certain of us feel free to remove material that *they* discern to be uncomfortable. I guess that I'll just chalk it up to the changing Wiki culture and let it go at that. -- TomStambaugh

Tom, Is it that this page was valuable to you, or is it that you don't want anybody to delete anything? -- WayneConrad

Was it content to you? Has the definition of what is content changed on this Wiki?

Was that directed to me? I have no idea. Wiki, like everything worth doing, is about people. -- WayneConrad

Whomever keeps asserting the culture is just fine, I'd recommend keeping an eye on It's most interesting.

I have no problem acknowledging that I may be a little thick, but what does this top-ten say about WikiCulture? Or more to the point, what does it tell you about the culture? You must have had something in mind when you posted this. Why does it show, as you say, that the culture is not fine? I must be missing something since I'm not even sure what can be found out by looking at a days worth of visit counts. I've only been here for a couple of years (only slightly active in one of those) but I always seem to find great content when I need it. I've been so happy about Wiki that we even setup a Wiki internally for our team. But really, who here has ever been part of anything and not heard people complain about how the culture has changed? I remember hearing the same comments on the Well, and even during the early days on Compuserve. Culture changes, that's a fact. For those who cut their eye-teeth on an earlier 'favor', this is usually a drag. By nature, people don't like change. However, for newcomers, this change is usually a great thing.
I've always believed that something which is truly great mutates and changes over time, and if it is really great, it will eventually end up turning into something much different than its originators and early adopters ever concieved of! Rock and Jazz are great examples. I strive for this ineffable quality in everything I design. While its easier to achieve this when designing tools and languages, it can still be done with applications. When something I've created is used to make someone productive in a way I could have never intended I know I have been successful. --RobertDiFalco

"Wiki is about people" because if you ignore the human aspect, the contents are guaranteed to be no good. Same thing for code. Same thing for anything. I did not mean to imply that the content doesn't matter. I meant that the people make the content. If people aren't getting along, the content will suck [Wayne, I don't share this opinion at all -- so much so that perhaps it should spawn its own page. -- TomStambaugh]. I (and others, thank goodness) felt that deleting this page was an important step in reconciling old differences and getting on with producing content. I'm sorry that Tom disagrees -- I respect his opinions and always listen to what he has to say. -- WayneConrad

...deleting these pages is tantamount to destroying old and irreplacable journal entries...

I really disagree with this pov. I don't see Wiki as an archive but as a living and breathing system that mutates and grows (and sometimes even shrinks). After all, we don't keep copies on line before each refactoring is made nor, IMO, should we. We also don't gear up towards a publication date at which time all refactorings must be completed. I think there are other systems that make better archives or libaries and, I for one would not like to see Wiki turn into this. This said, I don't think there is anything that prevents one from keeping there own local archives chronicling Wiki generations linearly. --RobertDiFalco

I view this Wiki as something akin to my Envy/Developer repository. Yes, it is, to me, an archive -- and most material in an archive lies quietly dormant for long periods. Yes, those of us who work in Envy/Developer *DO* "keep copies on line before each refactoring is made"!!! And yes, I think we *should*. Having immediate access to my history liberates me to take bigger steps into my future. But beyond that, these particular deletions were made, in my opinion, because of a desire to avoid hurting the feelings of certain members of the community. While I agree, of course, that our boundaries should exclude "hate speech", nothing that was deleted comes close to that. It is the attempted imposition of a certain segment's view of "political correctness" on the rest of us that I have a problem with. -- TomStambaugh

It would be interesting to compare peoples opinions on this page with where they came down one whether JohnDoes (not his real name ;-)) should have been able to delete his own posts in ThreadMode. I haven't done this, but it would be interesting to see. FWIW, I don't think Wiki is an archive per se, but I think it is perfectly reasonable to have a local archiving of Wiki.--RobertDiFalco

I agree that deleting this page was the right thing to do. When Sam left, Wiki descended (for a while) into navel-gazing, and I mostly stopped reading for a while. Things had started to return to normal, and now that Sam's back it seems that a painful episode might be behind us. I said some moderately harsh things about Sam here; his return is proof that I was at least partly wrong. Let's move on. --GlennVanderburg

...I guess that I'll just chalk it up to the changing Wiki culture and let it go at that.

Tom, you must realize that this was a dig for anyone who does not agree with you. Not an effective way to disagree, in my opinion.

If you hear this as a dig, then in my view you only confirm my opinion that we have all grown skins that are far too thin. I don't intend it as a "dig", but as a descriptive statement of where I am, and I stand by it. The Wiki culture is changing, and changing into something that I find less and less interesting. I also, in spite of my participation in this exchange, share RonJeffries' desire for us to return our focus to content. --TomStambaugh

?? Wiki culture has changed dramatically over the past 4 years. Many participants have left, others have come aboard. Etcetera. Here's an example of changing culture: very few people try to write patterns anymore. The old culture saw, to a certain extent, pattern detection and writing as the goal, and wiki as a means to that goal. The current culture is much more thread-oriented, and much more concerned with cultural practices and methodologies. I don't know whether Tom's right that the new culture is more prone to erasing bad memories, but I don't think it's really a dig for him to say so.


I agree with Tom. Wiki is a community, with a history. Deleting pages, especially emotionally charged ones because they might serve as unpleasant reminders of past incidents (because deleting them has symbolic value) seems fundamentally different from what I'd expect.

There's refactoring and reorganizing pages, to better bring out points that emerge as part of a discussion.

There's rewriting that occurs during the initial creation period, when people are still formulating what they think (and when some of the comments are a bit, ummm, intemperate).

And then there's deliberate erasure of history.

This strikes me as a case of the last. And while this bit of history isn't all that important to me (I've been at most a semi-wikier for quite some time now, including the time when Sam left, and when Sam returned), I'm not thrilled with the idea that past incidents could simply disappear.

I did archive the page before I deleted it. Anyone wanting it can send me email. I'll send it as soon as I can (it's at home and I'm at work). -- WayneConrad

I'm not a big fan of the WikiReductionist stuff that went on recently, and I'm not a big fan of MetaWiki in general. I do support the removal of the stuff on this page, and it rather surprises me. I even support removing what's there now. Here's why:

Wiki used to be about stuff. Patterns, XP, functional languages, stuff. And of course to a degree, it still is. Then it got to be about itself - WikiOnWiki - which isn't interesting to me, but I guess it's not inappropriate. When that got to destroying the stuff, IMO, it went too far.

Ron, when was stuff ever destroyed? I've been away for a month and may have missed it. I may even have forgotten one of my own heinous crimes on Wiki. But I can't remember stuff getting deleted to any degree, only small amounts of WikiOnWiki, which led to much more WikiOnWiki. -- RichardDrake

This page, OTOH, was about an individual, about some behavior that was seen as mistreatment (whether it was intended that way or not), and then about gossip and discussion of the poor dead bastard lying there on the slab.

It's OK with me if people want to record their wedding, or even their wedding night. They can record their tiffs, they can record him beating her and her removing his unit. But in my opinion, those recordings shouldn't be public, not for archival reasons. This page was about people hurting and about other people not making it any better. It was not one of our better days. And in my recollection, it wasn't even a page anyone was going to learn from. If it were my page, I'd want it dead. I'd erase it.

On the other hand, Wayne has the page. You want it back, email him for it and put it back. I bet he'd leave it this time.

Please remove from here to the beginning of the phrase "Sam left under". --RonJeffries
I agree with you, Ron, that this personal stuff is mostly noise. My preference would be for us to just let it quietly fade from the RecentChanges into the obscurity of Wiki's BackStack's.

At the same time, eventually another of us will get angry about content that the rest of us view as impersonal, and will be tempted to do another WikiMindWipe. I think it would be of value, then (probably long after SamGentle has retired...), for the community to explore its past and see what happened to it in similar situations. This is why I like my journal metaphor -- most of the time my old journals gather dust upstairs. But sometimes, I experience a deja-vu feeling, and I find myself wondering why.

Our consciousness is designed to constantly refilter and refactor our understandings of our history. A value of archival data is that it lets us compare and contrast our individual and collective recollection of what happened with our contemporaneous statements about it. In my view, an important value of history is its ability to inform our present.

Among other things, we are a community, community's have history, and Wiki is a repository of that history. It is the intentional alteration of that history, in order to suit the needs of a few individuals at a given moment (however well-intentioned -- I understand that this is all done with good intent) that I have a problem with. One of the best ways to recognize institutional racism is to read historical documents, even from the relatively recent past of ten or twenty years ago. If the "curators" of the archives where those documents reside had carefully edited them to remove the offensive material, the value of the archive would be permanently destroyed.

Now -- can I get you to join me in a more interesting discussion? There is a great book -- CluetrainManifesto -- that has pushed me over the edge into trying a new-style corporate strategy based on applying XP principles to individuals developing cool things in a post-corporate world. I'd much rather discuss *that* than all this Wiki navel-gazing. -- TomStambaugh

Tom, I think what's happened is that some of us view Wiki as a snapshot, and others of us view it as an archive. I do not think that a Wiki without versioning can support both views. It is a snapshot unless you either add versioning or agree never to delete anything. The problem as I now see it is that we have not all agreed never to delete anything, which means that the "snapshot" camp ends up walking all over the needs of the "archive" camp. Is this a fair statement of the problem? -- WayneConrad


Every action we take here should increase value. Sometimes deleting increases value. I just don't think erasing painful memories does. There is a better alternative, namely to let it fade from view. The deletion caused the page to be refreshed in RecentChanges, thus stirring up old wounds and leading to all this WikiOnWiki debate. It also lost I-know-not-what insights about an important time in Wikis life. We shouldn't run from painful truths.

I don't think this is a debate between archivists and snapshoters. It's about whether it is OK to delete valuable content for symbolic reasons. -- DaveHarris

I don't think it was deleted because the old content was "unprofessional". If we deleted content for being unprofessional it would have gone a long time ago. The reason given was "symbolic". I took this to mean a kind of public forgiving and forgetting. In other words, an act as unprofessional and emotionally people-oriented as the original content. -- DaveHarris

... But beyond that, these particular deletions were made, in my opinion, because of a desire to avoid hurting the feelings of certain members of the community.

Tom, this is probably directed about me. You were particuarly vocal in your attempts to bash me and hurt me in those pages and always have been. Your comments about "getting a tough skin" only add to my perception that this is something you pride yourself on. In fact, you were the prime reason I left Wiki. I'm sorry these deletions make you upset but I think of Wiki as a living, breathing organism that changes all the time. I am not the same person I was then. Why do we need to air all that un-pleasantness? Why can't we just focus on content and leave it that?


Sam, I'd like to try and keep exchanges about external things separate from exchanges about each other. I don't think I've ever attacked you personally, then or now. Unfortunately, because the specific examples have all been deleted, it's very difficult to backtrack, now, and reflect on what we each might have said differently. I don't think anything has to be "aired" -- the unpleasantness would have disappeared on its own without being erased. I am most comfortable with allowing the community itself to evolve its own standards of what it should "focus" on -- pages that are truly irrelevant will simply cease being accessed. The advantage of *not* deleting them is pointed to in your own metaphor, which I like: "a living breathing organism that changes all the time". As the organism lives and breathes, the things that are important to it also change. I suspect that each participant of Wiki has a different view of what constitutes "content" and how tightly we should focus on it. That's why I'm most comfortable with a culture that encourages such diversity. To me, deleting material that (within well understood bounds) is considered "off topic" or "inappropriate" reduces, rather than enlarges, the diversity of views represented here. And so I prefer to avoid such deletion. -- TomStambaugh

Tom, even Ron was surprised to find himself agreeing to the removal on this occasion. Life is full of such surprises. I know your general view, indeed I've learnt from it, I respect the quality of your contributions on Wiki and I pray (quite seriously) that you will never lose stuff of real importance from the "journal" here. But why not surprise yourself and others by letting go on this one and even perhaps deleting your comments on this page? (It gives a whole new meaning to LosingTheArgument?.) -- RichardDrake

On RandomPages today, "BeCheerful" was listed twice consecutively. Clearly it's a message from the Wiki. Keep your karma off the floor.

Yep, good point from RandomPages.

I only saw this today (20021214) because apparently some WikiVandalism occurred last night - I'm a RecentChangesJunkie. Anyway, last night I had several pages deleted without explanation by one or more AnonymousDonors. I won't rehash the issue here - suffice it to say I don't really know why. Anyway, I agree with TomStambaugh about the erasing of history, and I'm wondering if it's a peculiarly yankee thing. We erase painful memories of the war in Vietnam. The censorship and self-censorship of the media in Desert Storm was a classic example, and the coming(?) war in Iraq may be the result: condemned to repeat history because we erase it. -- TomRossen

[Some very weird OffTopic WalledGarden was deleted.]

I don't see the parallels, myself. The USian lack of historical understanding is of great concern because we are a large culture -- 275 million or so, at last count -- and history needs to be written down in reproducible forms and disseminated. WardsWiki is small and young -- its users in the hundreds -- and many of the people who made it amazing in the early days are still around, even if they're less active than they used to be. Smaller societies can take on less overhead to make progress; in a place like c2 the difference between individual wisdom and group wisdom is not as great. -- francis

SizeMatters? (No way I'm wikifying that one in the presence of a WikiMaster!) I guess I don't see your argument. c2 is big enough to have extremely divergent views on its core topics, and it clearly does.

In acting classes we were often concerned with the difference between product and process. Actors who thought too much about product (e.g., the perfect performance) screwed up their process (e.g., developing character, responding to the audience). I think of this wiki in particular in terms of the motto of my alma mater: Crescat scientia, vita excolatur (Let knowledge grow, let life be enriched) and StephenJayGould's view of diversity as one of the hallmarks of evolution. If the goal of c2 is to find ultimate truth and convert every page to DocumentMode, I think it's barking up the wrong evolutionary tree. It also has a slight flavor of WinnersWriteTheHistory.

I'm not opposed to weeding the wiki, and I appreciate what you do, Francis - and even the anonymous deletors who forced me to rethink a lot of things. But even if c2 were a tenth its current size (people and pages), there would still be a value in keeping painful memories around rather than repressing/erasing them. -- tr

Perhaps I didn't explain myself very well. Consider a community of one person, and the things of importance to that one person. You can:

  1. Write down an obsessive diary that's updated every few hours and includes petty little details of your life in the slight hope that one day you'll need this raw data
  2. Write down nothing and hope you can commit all important facts and beliefs to memory and instinct
  3. Find a balance

I believe in the third, myself. I don't erase everything, but I don't keep lots of things around because life is short and it's not worth it too much to obsess about the past. There's a lot I know implicitly.

In a community of two people, you do more communicating because you have more that the other person doesn't know. You write down more. In a community of 1000 (c2, maybe?) you write down even more. In a community of 275 million (the U.S.) you need to write down a lot.

I'm not saying we should erase painful memories. I'm saying that the documents of painful memories are not the memories themselves. Believe me, I'm sure there are a number of people who remember implicitly how they've been treated here by others. Regardless of whether or not there's any documents to remind them of why things happened that way. -- francis

Can't disagree with any of that. And I agree about eliminating the painful parts, which are probably noise anyway. Just wanted to retain the history of ideas. -- tr

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