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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Here's your sign...

Those of you who know me are aware that one of my pet peeves is people who forward hoaxes, urban legends, bogus virus warnings, and misattributed intellectual property. Anyone who has the ability to commit these transgressions, by definition also has the ability to avoid them. Specifically, if you have e-mail, you have access to the Internet as well!

I know from rereading my old e-mails that I tend to get shrill and strident when dealing with this issue, but I can't help it. With today's robust search engines (google, yahoo, altavista, webcrawler, et al) it takes literally seconds to find out if what you are about to inflict on your entire address book is legit. There is even a great clearinghouse for urban legends called snopes where you can search by keyword or genre for every sort of hoax, e-mail fraud or netlore.

One of the worst offenses (in my humble opinion) though, is attributing one person's work to another. If you forward an e-mail telling me about a bogus phone scam or computer virus, all you have done is waste my time (and perhaps my ISP's bandwidth). If in your haste to send me something funny, sad or beautiful you neglect to tell me who wrote, sang, or photographed it...even that I can almost forgive, since in the process of being passed around it may have become irreparably separated from its creator. There are, unfortunately, a lot of orphaned ideas, images, and music adrift in cyberspace...all well worth sharing.

However, when you forward something attributed to one person that was actually created by someone else - especially if a quick google search would have set things right - well, now you've gone too far.

A famous case that comes to mind is the famous, "Here's your sign" comedy sketch, attributed to Andy Rooney (among others), that has been making the rounds for the past few years. The concept and excecution of this routine was so brilliant, that "Here's your sign" has become a slangy way of telling someone they've done or said something really stupid. The only problem here is that Andy Rooney didn't write it. It is the work of a comedian named Bill Engvall.

Another example closer to my heart is the famous Dennis Miller piece dealing with the concept of news programs that provide a legitimate forum (and by proximity, the kiss of legitimacy) to terrorists. In addition to lampooning Greta Van Susteren, he makes some brilliant observations about the situation in the middle-east. Again, we have a problem because the article was written not by Dennis Miller, but by another talented humorist named Larry Miller.

It is a rare thing to say, do, or otherwise create something worthy of being passed along or quoted. It is rarer still for one's ideas to amass a cult following of sorts. Let's face it...for the few hours, days or weeks that a great e-mail / link makes the rounds, a heretofore unatainable insta-fame is made possible.

In this paperless age, few of us will leave to posterity cigar-boxes full of correspondence. Our great ideas will not turn up in steamer trunks in dusty attics or glued into the back of old picture frames. No...the only shot most people will have at passing along their ideas to the future is if the identity of the creator somehow manages to stay connected with the creation.

'nuff said!

Oh...yes, you can feel free to forward this.

Posted by David Bogner on December 30, 2003 | Permalink


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dave I have read all the postings and they are very good but when in your present lifestyle (newborn baby) do you have the time to do it?

Posted by: dave | Dec 30, 2003 7:26:39 PM

Lately there have been a lot of early moring opportunities to write while trying to get Yonah to settle down. I put him accross my lap and type until he konks out.

Truth be told...my muse usually gives out before the kid does.

Posted by: David Bogner | Dec 30, 2003 9:59:17 PM

A number of years back, an acquaintance (Dick Israel Z"L) was working on a humorous list of different crumbs to use for Tashlish. He sent a version to a (theoretically) private email list. Within hours he got his joke forwarded back to him from an unexpected person, having been forwarded around the world, with his name removed! Needless to say he was a bit astonished. He rewrote a version embedding his name as an acrostic, just in case the attribution got trimmed again...

For details see:

Posted by: Jonathan Segal | May 21, 2007 4:48:07 PM

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