Doing my small part to preserve digital history

High cirrus clouds and low fog over the Pacific Ocean Years ago, in an undergrad course, one the of the school’s librarians gave a talk about the big risk of the move to digital publishing – historical preservation.  We know what the ancient Greeks thought in part because their words were carved into stone – would we be so lucky if they had used floppy disks?

I wasn’t completely convinced that the situation was so dire then, and I’m still not really worried.  The production and storage of information continues to grow exponentially, and I think the real problem for future archeologists will be dealing with information overload rather than some hypothetical gap in the written record.  But I have been thinking a lot about my own digital history lately so I spent part of this weekend looking at old papers from college and publishing them on my site.

I don’t think my meager efforts will be much help to future historians (much less reverse the entropy of the universe), but I did find some interesting stuff that I probably should have posted for the world to see a long time ago.

For example:

The more I dig up and paste into my WordPress archives the more I realize a few things.  First, a distinct lack of content between undergrad and grad school – I’m doing a much better job of writing without assignments now than I did then.  Second, a hard drive crash in 2003 resulted in a gap in my saved emails – this hurts more now that I’m looking back through things.  Finally, I need to make a point, for the rest of my life, to just put things out there. It seems like such a shame that I put work into these docs just to have them rot on my hard drive.

I know some of my co-workers, Reid and Wysz, have gone through the process of resurrecting old content to their current website.  Anyone else thinking about doing something similar?  What prompted you to do so?  Or, what prevented you?

6 thoughts on “Doing my small part to preserve digital history

  1. I think it’s pretty clear from the experiences of Reid and Wysz that putting up your history online for the world to read/see only makes for awkward situations where people end up remembering more about your past than you. It’s not like many of us have any experiences that will add anything new to the collection already up on the web (at least that’s what Will Smith told me: so I think the only thing that will come out of such an endeavor is awkwardness at parties. My vote: keep it hidden.

  2. Thanks Nelson, that was a great link. I do see your point, that’s why I’ve pretty much only put up professional or academic posts so far.

    On the other hand, if everyone decided to stop blogging because they’ve never had any novel or interesting experiences, the web would get really boring really quick. So I think I’ll keep posting. :)

  3. I was prevented from digging out about 10 years of writing by accidentally deleting it all after file handling got a bit complicated between machines. Writing is a muscle, so outside of the self-absorbed value of seeing how my work changed over time, there’s good stuff towards the end that’s now gone — and I’m unlikely to ever write again as much and reach that same point.

  4. As someone who did post an old’s blog content, I did go through a (basic) thought process of what benefit moving this content to my new site would bring.

    1. Would this content be embarrassing? Yes, a little bit, especially with people who would read all of it and then bring it up in awkward situations. But, overall, there’s nothing too incriminating.

    2. Does this content tell a better story of who I am? I think this was the most important factor – I had spent many hours and years writing in a defunct journal, and that content was sitting on another site’s server, meaning if I didn’t move it over, there was always the chance that it could be deleted, forever. And one of the reasons why I decided to keep a journal during my early years of college was to have something to look back on and see how I’ve transformed over the years. If anything, I’ve looked back on some of my experiences and wish I had provided more detail and context. And I’m okay with having it online – someone or something could one day find it useful.

    Something I’ve also been considering is moving my old papers online. I also did some research and at least ‘publishing’ it on my blog can be more useful than it sitting on my hard drive.

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