When I was 15 I was suspended from school for being a little bollix. It had manifested itself in various ways, such as shoplifting on a school tour, but had culminated in me and a mate getting busted for our 'convo book'. Bored as every other student, wary of getting caught passing notes, before the advent of teenagers and texting, we took to writing down our every waking thought in a copy book and then sliding it across the desk to the other. This meant that teachers were not inclined to notice anything, and merely assumed we were doing our work. Fancying ourselves as devastatingly witty we prided ourselves on the collection of stuff we wrote, even fancying that one day someone might want to publish our observations. Like Adrian Mole.
But, inevitably, we got caught by a teacher. Who confiscated the copy. And read some of its content. And looked horrified. And passed it on to the principal.
He was not amused. Our book was filled with the usual teenage complaints about school and parents, sometimes fairly bile-flecked. And, of course, lustlorn paeans to female classmates and teachers we fancied. Far from depraved, it was, but it was honest enough and it probably looked mildly deranged in accumulation. My defence, when confronted with the disgust of principal and parents, is that there was nothing there any worse than what everyone else was saying. That everyone had these complaints, these turns-of-phrase, these desires. They did, and much worse, but I learnt the painful lesson then that what you say and what you write down are two very different things. The written word can be taken vastly out of context and can be augmented in a tone that was never intended. And it's there for posterity, not blown in a breeze down the corridor. My mate and I had never intended to offend anyone, but we did, and we came to regret it badly. He wanted to keep hold of our other convo books that he had squirrelled away at home but I insisted that he burn them. As a pretty accurate record of teenage selves that slip further and further away they would probably crack us up to look back over now, but I still feel the right call was made.
I think of that situation, now half a world away from me, when I see stories like the PricewaterhouseCooper one, the Twitter joke trial, and the stupid Tory tit who thought it was merely 'glib' to tweet about stoning someone. As we choose increasingly to replace conversation with online interaction and to inscribe our every brainfart, people are going to have to realise that this kind of shit can't be unsaid, that words are still potent and that they go a fuck of a lot further these days than they used to.