Monday, April 04, 2016

When our culture’s past is lost in the cloud.

When our culture’s past is lost in the cloud. Nicholas Carr. Washington Post. March 25, 2016.
     The article begins by referring to "the 'rough draught' of the Declaration of Independence. Over Thomas Jefferson’s original, neatly penned script ran edits by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and other Founding Fathers. Words were crossed out, inserted and changed, the revisions providing a visual record of debate and compromise. A boon to historians, the four-page manuscript provides even the casual viewer with a keen sense of the drama of a nation being born." If the Declaration were composed today it would have been written on a computer and the edits, made electronically through email or a shared Internet file, would probably have been lost. It is likely "the digital file would come to be erased or rendered unreadable by changes in technical standards. We’d have the words, but the document itself would have little resonance."
  • Abby Smith Rumsey: “A physical connection between the present and past is wondrously forged through the medium of time-stained paper,” The “distinctive visceral connection” with history may be diminished or lost when these historical items are in databases rather than in actual objects.
  • As more and more of what we know, make and experience is recorded as vaporous bits in the cloud, what exactly will we leave behind for future generations?
  • Scientists are discovering that our senses and even our emotions play important roles in recollection and remembrance. 
  • Memory is a way to navigate and make sense of the world
  • Nature embeds history in matter.
  • The technologies a society uses to record, store and share information will play a crucial role in determining the richness, or sparseness, of its legacy.  
  • In choosing among media technologies through the ages, people have tended to trade durability for transmissibility.
  • “Digital memory is ubiquitous yet unimaginably fragile, limitless in scope yet inherently unstable.” 
  • All media are subject to decay, of course. Clay cracks, paper crumbles. What’s different now is that our cultural memory is embedded in a complex and ever-shifting system of technologies. Any change in the system can render the record unreadable. 
  • If we’re not careful “the history of the twenty-first century will be riddled with large-scale blanks and silences.”
To protect our cultural legacy we "need to overcome our complacency and start taking the long-term protection of valuable data seriously. We’ll need a reinvigorated system of libraries and archives, spanning the public, private and nonprofit sectors, that are adept at digital preservation. We’ll need thoughtful protocols for determining what data needs to be saved and what can be discarded. And we’ll need to ensure that control over culturally significant data doesn’t end up in the hands of a small group of commercial enterprises that focus on profit, not posterity."

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