“Johann Hari, you are a plagiarist!” I shoot those words at him and let them hang in the air between us.
He shifts uneasily, but when he replies his voice is surprisingly unapologetic.”When dealing with an inarticulate interviewee, or one whose English was poor,” he confides, “I have sometimes substituted a passage they have written or said more clearly elsewhere on the same subject for what they said to me, so the reader understands their point as clearly as possible.”
“Yeah, right,” I say, my outrage rising, “but when you talk about what they said more clearly elsewhere what you really mean is what they said more clearly when interviewed by someone else, huh?”
He furrows his big, broad brow, pats my knee, and tells me about the night he knew he was going to die unless he got his copy in on time. “It depends, ” he says, looking away, “on whether you prefer the intellectual accuracy of describing their ideas in their most considered words, or the reportorial accuracy of describing their ideas in the words they used on that particular afternoon.”
“Intellectual accuracy,” I cry, grabbing his patting-hand in a jiu-jitsu lock and hurling him over my shoulder, “cannot exist independently of reportorial accuracy.”
Floored equally by my logic and a martial arts technique taught to me by a secret order of fighting monks living in the high passes of Chingford, he apologises to a lampshade for having once supported the Iraq war and hobbles away.
This interview was true in spirit.
It was also almost entirely an excuse to say something that I had been meaning to say for ages, but was too short to be a post on its own: never mind all this twitter and email and communication-y stuff, the underreported way the internet changes everything is the way that everything anyone writes is still there years later. I cannot even safely assume that you have forgotten that I said this before, on Tuesday March 1st 2005.
UPDATE: Today’s Guardian carries an interview (which I am fairly sure really happened) in which Stuart Jeffries talks to Viktor Mayer-Schönberger: Why we must remember to delete – and forget – in the digital age. Much there to disagree with, in particular the way Mayer-Schönberger chucks around the word “should” in “He argues that digital storage devices (cameras, mobiles, computers) should automatically delete information that has reached its expiration date”. Does “should” mean “it would be nice if manufactures put this in” or “let’s have a law to force them to”? When a professor of internet governance and regulation fails to make this distinction it strikes me as sinister. Nevertheless the interview is fascinating, particularly when Mayer-Schönberger talks about how “the Panopticon now extends across time and cyberspace”.