Words Spinning into the Future

As we blog away, write away, who knows where these words will be read. All it takes is one inbound link into a collection of thoughts, and they become accessible to future generations.

So often it takes a bit of a stumbling attitude to discover new things. It has happened in science, and it happens in art – a chance combination of words, or fluid stroke, an odd chord – the creative leap into a new space.

All is not grand though: we work in an electronic and digital medium; things can be erased instantly. No power, and we lose our built-up archives. We trust there are guardians and safeguards in place.

We do our work and our thinking; now and into the future.

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7 Responses to “Words Spinning into the Future”

  1. SilverTiger Says:

    You are probably aware that corporate employers these days have Web searches done on prospective employees to see whether they have expressed themselves in public in ways the employer considers inappropriate. For this reason, people I know avoid blogs and forums. Using a pseudonym might not offer that much protection against determined searchers.

    Data in electronic form can indeed be quickly lost. A couple of years ago a report in the newspaper told of a man who had almost completed his PhD thesis on the family computer and came home to find his wife had erased it. He was so angry he killed her and was on trial for murder.

    Will the destruction or wiping of an electronic volume ever be as great a loss to humanity as the destruction of the ancient Library at Alexandria? We cannot answer that question as we do not know what there will be that can be lost.

    The electronic age has brought us the “information overload”: much information is “lost”, despite being available, because there is too much for us to take it all in. The automatic erasing of all information except that explicitly saved as being important for us now and in the future, might be a good thing. Such a scheme would at least concentrate minds.

    I will end there as I have to go and renew the loan on my library books 🙂

    SilverTiger

  2. archiearchive Says:

    There is a website, http://www.archive.org , which not only stores all the web pages, but also all the changes to those webpages. All you need is the original URL and you can look at my old Xoom limericks page which I thought had gone forever. Possibly there will be a new scientific discipline at some stage in the future, internet archeology.

  3. SilverTiger Says:

    It just shows how careful you have to be: youtheful (not so youthful) indiscretions may be faithfully recorded…

  4. rjlight Says:

    it’s those words spinning out into the future that scare me–I’m not worried about losing them I’m more worried about their existence

  5. janoftheday Says:

    All is not grand though: we work in an electronic and digital medium; things can be erased instantly. No power, and we lose our built-up archives. We trust there are guardians and safeguards in place.

    I work as an archivist. The loss of electronic data and the chain of evidence, thereby, scares the shit out of me professionally.

    We’re nowhere near sorted to ensure things last the way that paper, parchment, pen and ink lasts. Sure, it costs to store all the paper, and we generate so much of it (mostly because we don’t trust the electronic storage, ha!), but the cost of putting in place a secure, backed-up digital & electronic archive system (a one off payment, up front, that will buy itself back within two years in terms of paper storage costs – come on, it’s a no brainer) is the thing that I am told my organisation can’t afford. But it can afford the steady stream of paper supplies, the cost of renting or building new physical storage as we run out of space to store the paper copies.

    SilverTiger: The automatic erasing of all information except that explicitly saved as being important for us now and in the future, might be a good thing. Such a scheme would at least concentrate minds
    In the UK, acts like the Data Protection Act and Freedom of Information Act are supposed to ensure just that. Sadly it means that a lot of information that survived by accident in the past will now be consciously destroyed before it has chance to get into the public domain because organisations are scared of being sued or made a show of in the media. Huxley and Orwell knew what was coming up, information-wise.

    As an archivist, I am trained not to interfere with the process of survival of data. I’m not supposed to think about what would be good for people to know in the future. I’m supposed to wait and see what survives and then look after it. As a records manager, I’m trained to actively destroy data that no longer has a useful life for the organisation that employs me. But I’m also permitted to identify material that, although no longer useful to my organisation in its day to day business, might be useful for historians in the future. That data I transfer to the archive. It’s an odd thing to juggle.

    The loss of archives and library collections through time is a source of frustration for researchers, I know. But from an archival point of view, it’s one of those things. The more worrying thing is the active and deliberate destruction of data on the basis that you don’t want people knowing what you’ve been up to – how does democracy stand up if you have governments deleting records? It doesn’t. You end up with what happened in the Balkan wars. You end up with what happened in Nazi Germany. You end up with activities that went on under Pinochet, with people disappearing and nobody held to account because the documentary record (or lack of it) says that they never existed.

    archiearchive: Possibly there will be a new scientific discipline at some stage in the future, internet archeology
    There already is, trust me. Not a formal one, but one that people in my profession are increasingly faced with. How do you gain access to the electronic documents that Writer A created using WordStar in 1987 and stored on one of those big floppy disks (not even one of the now obsolete 3.5 in. floppies)? How, when 2006 comes around, do you access the data on the videodiscs created on Acorn computers that you, the BBC, created in 1986 as a follow-up to the still accessible Domesday Book of 1086? Go here: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue36/tna/ to find out.

    rjlight: it’s those words spinning out into the future that scare me–I’m not worried about losing them I’m more worried about their existence
    1. What on earth have you been committing to the page?? You and SilverTiger both, actually.
    2. Words spinning out into the future are my bread and butter. At any level, government, private enterprise, personal memoirs, they help us to understand the way society works and moves through time. Don’t be scared of it, think of it as your legacy to future generations. Okay, be scared of it.. Ha!

    Sorry for the long response. It’s Sunday, it’s raining in Stockport, I’ve only just woken up. Things happen. J

  6. SilverTiger Says:

    Re: the above by janoftheday. I think the information covered by the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act is only a small part of the total produced. What about online news reports, scientific papers, advertising etc etc.? Most of this stuff has a limited useful lifetime and may not be particularly useful even at the time it is published. A good clear out would be a good idea.

    Of course, it is difficult to know what is simply garbage and what is of historical value. As we know, archaeologists derive a lot of useful information from middens, for example. We cannot know what will be useful in the future. On the other hand, what obligation do we have to the historians of the future? We cannot guess their needs and any attempts to meet them are therefore likely to be a waste of time, energy and storage space.

    Regarding your point 1. I didn’t say the words you quote (as noted by your ascription). Anything I output here and on my blog (and on my Web site etc) I put out knowingly. It therefore doesn’t alarm me that it may be kept forever. I may be wrong not to be alarmed but that’s a different issue.

    SilverTiger

  7. matt Says:

    If an organisaton (as potential employer) was searching the web to see what I say, as part of their ‘checks’ then believe me, I wouldn’t want to work for them. But then, I probably wouldn’t know they were doing it ……

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