I had taken a break from my morning work to stretch and add a few steps to my smartwatch (have to get those 10,000 steps in, you know). I picked up my Android tablet, fired up my eBook reader app, and started walking around the house, going up and down steps, and searching for some enlightenment, or maybe just entertainment, as I walked.
I had been reading a book called "OPEN", by David Price. It's about the new way we learn, the new way we live, and the new way business operates, or will operate in an open future. Those of you who know me know that I've been writing about Linux and Open-Source software since 1999, so the whole "open" thing isn't entirely new to me. Consequently, while it was really an interesting book, I felt like I was mostly reading things that I already know. The event that inspired this post was from a passage early on in the book.
What caught my attention, as I read, was a quotation attributed to Mark Twain regarding colleges. It states that "College is a place where a professor's lecture notes go straight to the students lecture notes, without passing through the brains of either."
Since I happen to love Mark Twain, and this quote certainly sounded like something he would have said, I decided to look it up. The reason being, of course, that I wanted to share it with you. In the spirit of open, of course.
And so, I started googling. No, not ChatGPT'ing since this all happened before December 2022. The problem is that it appears that Mark Twain did not, in fact, say this. It's a misquote. Now I'm left with a cool quote, that really sounds like it could be Mark Twain, but isn't. You can have it if you want. It's still pretty good, but it now lacks that certain, "Je ne sais Twain."
Since I can't share this quote in the spirit that I wanted to share it, I'll share a really cool site that I discovered while searching for the veracity of the college quote. It's called Quote Investigator and you can find it at http://quoteinvestigator.com. The subtitle of the site is "Exploring the origins of quotations."
There is an enormous number of cool quotes out there on the Internet, made seemingly more real by attaching the words to a picture of the person to whom the quote is attributed. And, if things weren't already complicated, people create so-called 'memes' (like the one above, by Gandalf, or Picard, or whoever) with clever quips attributed to characters who would never say such a thing.
People invent all sorts of these attributions, for any number of reasons. It's springtime in 2023 as I write this line (no, it really is!) and every day uncovers another AI tool for text generation, image generation, sound generation, and probably generation-regeneration, whatever that latter might be. We can create audio clips, spoken in a person's voice and intonation, except that it's a machine saying it, not the actual person. And then we have deep fakes, including those AI-generated images that showed Trump being arrested (we can all dream) despite this event not having happened.
Not yet anyhow.
With so many quotes being quoted and requoted, it seems likely that sometimes people will get it wrong. They could also just be making shit up. People have been known to do that. Or they're simply having fun. None of these reasons make it any easier to discover whether somebody actually said something attributed to them. To get to the truth, you sometimes need to go back in time, to the source.
So, if like me, you find yourself wondering whether a particular famous person actually said some clever thing, head over to Quote Investigator and check it out. Do some research. Then, search around and see if Quote Investigator got it wrong. It might be enlightening. It might be terribly depressing, especially if you wanted to share that cool quote. But at least you won't add to the growing collection of misquotes.