There is an interesting mix of Digital Historians lamenting the fact that not enough modern digital history is being preserved, while others are concerned that there’s too much poorly digitized history. The former recalls the fragility of not only digital memory, but personal memories as well.
Being a in high school and living on an island in 2001, the internet played a huge role in how frequently I was using the internet to communicate with the outside world. Now, AIM was still the primary mode of teenage chatter, no texting, no Facebook. Yet I can remember posting on my favorite message boards, chatting with friends across the country and in other countries about the events of 9/11. None of this correspondence survives. As much as I remember printing out certain important emails and IM conversations I am sure that they did not survive desk clean outs, packing for college, moving around and even more garage purges. Even if I did find them, I don’t think that they were important enough to continue to save. Although that being said I’m absolutely sure there’s a historian 200 years from now that is going to be desperate to have this documentation. If I could find a cache of 1870s teenage girl correspondence, no matter how mundane or flippant, I would be ecstatic to read it.
The problem with this overall thinking is the angst about what we could have saved had we known it could’ve been important. Sadly, I think this same thinking has plagued other generations. There is so much more we could have in our archives, letters, telegraphs, school time doodles and personal essays. Things people didn’t think were important to save or that weather, fire, or poor preservation destroyed. We aren’t that unique that parts of our collective memory will be lost. Hopefully the efforts of Cohen will prevent more of this happening and can preserve the misinformation that fuels the confusion around dramatic national events.
Robert Townsend’s article on Google Books broke my heart a bit. I love Google Books. It has opened up so many great books and allowed me to quickly check 19th century vocabulary. After being in my 1876 character and saying the word “hydrate” I was corrected by another roleplayer. Using Google books and adjusting the time period of sources I could prove that she was right! Hydrate is more of a chemical term and isn’t a commonly used phrase. Yet, I have to accept Townswend’s criticisms and can easily see how forging ahead at a fast pace with no fact-checking or editing in place can make Google Books a faulty source. I can’t deny that when he mentions them publishing 3,000 books a day it makes me giddy. Books, even if they’re not completely 100% digitally perfect, are still good sources to have access to.
Ok, to be a bit self-serving for a moment. This particular idea about preserving digital correspondence hit home for me this weekend. If you follow my Twitter feed (cough, cough, it’s at the bottom) you will know that my boyfriend proposed to me this past Saturday while we were at Old Sturbridge Village. Immediately after saying yes, calling my father, we took a self portrait (selfie) and posted it to Facebook. It was the fastest and easiest way to reach out to most people in our lives. We thought only a few folks would “Like” or even “Comment” currently we have over 50 comments and 150 likes. As I want to document the occasion I will print out and digitally save the comments and list of people who “liked” it. 🙂