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by Brian Schrader

Re: Permanence

Posted on Tue, 15 Jul 2014 at 06:19 AM

After watching The Internet's Own Boy I got to thinking about Matt Gemmell's article a few weeks back about digital permanence. I took to browsing the Internet Archive after watching the movie, and I was struck by how exhaustive their collection is. Even my old Wordpress blog was in there, crazy. The thing is, we need more of that kind of thing. We need to realize that what we put on the Internet we are committing to history. In the past, the only way to make it into history was to write a book, or publish a scientific paper. Now it's trivial; blogs, Twitter, Facebook (most people's substitute for a blog these days), Instagram, etc instantly connect us with each other, and almost by accident, provide us with first hand accounts of our modern day events. Future historians won't have to search in the dirt for our words, they'll have to cut out all the crap to find the stuff they want. That changes how historians will do their work, and it should change how we think about what we say and do online.

The Internet Never Forgets

I truly hope that the Internet Archive thrives long into the future. I hope that The Library of Congress does the same thing they do with Twitter to scores of other online services. Students of the future will not know us like we know George Washington, by paintings and second hand accounts, but by his Facebook page, Twitter feed, and his blog. How much history is lost by those who live it not writing it down. With the internet, we have the ability (assuming storage is cheap) to preserve everything we ever say, think, write, or post. That's really powerful, and possible accountability and privacy issues aside, its probably the most important use of an invention in the history of man. That someone decades, if not centuries, from now could read these words (assuming they are looking in the "Blogs No One Reads" section) is amazing. Every letter or period you type is committed to the record of history.

Write Early, Write Often

I try to get people I know, friends and family, to start a blog. And I encourage anyone reading this to do the same. I'm really insistent on it. Why? Because even your personal blog, your meaningless post on the usefulness of digital permanence could end up in the archive (chances are that it will, if it doesn't, you can add it manually). That means that you are a voice in history. Centuries from now your name will be on those thoughts, those bytes. Those words will be yours. To not write, to not give your opinion, is to be forgotten by history. Give your opinions, even if no one sees them. Some one might someday.

Just as Matt promised in his post, I promise here to keep this site up as long as I can. I have this site version controlled so that the entire site can be rebuild as I built it, step by step. Why? Mostly for safeguarding against my own stupidity, but also to preserve the site as it used to be or as it will be. Anyone who got their hands on the repository could reproduce this site as it was at any point in its history. Every style change, every typo fix, every deleted article, everything. Most of this information is worthless, true, but deleting it is doing this information a disservice. Keep backups of your work, and make sure that backup is safe. It's our job as parts of history to report what we see, think, feel, and say not only to offer our thoughts as evidence for some future grad student's thesis proposal, but to preserve ourselves, and our identity indefinitely. In the past, libraries have burned, their knowledge lost. It is possible now that we can make sure that kind of tragedy never happens again, and that all people can have their footnote in the book of human history; that is, if they write it down.

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