Sunday, 9 August 2009

Remembering to forget

Are we getting this digital preservation thing all wrong? An article in today's Sunday Times quotes Viktor Mayer-Schonberger that we're creating a "digital memory that vastly exceeds the capacity of our collective human mind". James Harkin reports that Viktor wants us to forget more. Mind you, the main (and earliest) example given concerns an unfortunate photo from as recently as 2006. I'm sure the lady concerned would have remembered it only too well, whether or not the Internet example had come to light.

It's a daft story, but there is an interesting angle. Many preservation "systems" carry the risk that things will be preserved that some would prefer forgotten (eg the famous Bush speech). When the powerful want to change the record, the Web both facilitates and resists them. Web sites (and archives) are generally under some kind of centralised control, and subject to pressure, which they may or may not be able to resist. There are rumours of web-based reports being retrospectively "fixed". But once reports have got out into the wild, as it were, it is much harder to "fix" them, as the example above shows.

This doesn't mean that archives are a bad thing. They bring professional standards to the keeping of history. But perhaps it's a Good Thing that there's an uncontrollable un-system of citizens keeping (probably illegal) copies of some important and uncomfortable records. Even if it does mean that the lady's embarrassing photo stays around longer than she would like!

1 comment:

  1. There is a similarly themed lecture by Penny Carnaby (Librarian, National Library of New Zealand), entitled 'The Delete Generation':


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