Saturday, August 18, 2012

Throughout all of documentary history, loss is the norm.*


Yesterday @blefurgy tweeted a line which caught my attention.


After a little research I figured out this line came from “Challenges and Opportunities for PersonalDigital Archivinga chapter by Catherine C. Marshall in the book I, Digital published by Society of American Archivists. It’s an intriguing and well researched study of people attitudes and activities with regards to their own digital “collections.”

I’ll provide some extended quotes (something you can’t do on twitter) without any commentary except for the one thought that came to me after reading the article.

As we examine what people do, a puzzling pattern emerges: people seem to be relying on disk crashes, technology failure, and periodic obsolescence as a way of pruning their collections. As we examine what people do, a puzzling pattern emerges: people seem to be relying on disk crashes, technology failure, and periodic obsolescence as a way of pruning their collections. It is not that loss does not bother them; it is rather that loss makes their collections more tractable. The accumulated weight of these digital belongings is swept away, so that they can focus their attention on the present.” P. 101-102

“But we can readily identify some countervailing reasons why we would not keep everything. First and foremost is that although storage is cheap, human attention is far less so. Furthermore, as we will see later in this chapter (and in other chapters of this book), stewardship is more than simply storing digital belongings once on reliable storage; stewardship requires continual attention to the items and media in a collection:” p. 102

“We are looking for the digital equivalent to benign neglect.” P. 103

“Thus, if we return to our earlier realization—it is easier to keep than to cull—we can further muse that it is easier to lose than maintain. And that, in a nutshell, encapsulates benign neglect as a personal digital archiving strategy.” P. 110

“Benign neglect and intrinsic distribution can become instrumental in securing a digital future in which we neither keep everything, nor lose everything, nor become shackled by the need to sustain our growing accumulations of digital belongings.” P. 112

I think it might be helpful to distinguish between those things people collect and those things people accumulate. Hoarders of the “reality tv” variety are not so much collectors of newspapers and trash so much as accumulators of the stuff. They get it and don’t get rid of it. Most of the papers, brochures, and business cards cluttering my desk are things that have accumulated and not things that I have particularly collected. Most of my digital possessions fall more into the category of accumulations than collections.I wonder if distinguishing between things accumulated and things collected would result in different attitudes towards their disposition.

*I must credit the “loss is the norm” line to the individual who reviewed the I, Digital book at http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue69/rusbridge-rvw . Apart from this helpful line, the reviewer seems like a writer who thoroughly enjoys reading his own writing.

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