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In a disposable culture,history suffers

July 1, 2010

I wrote an article earlier this year that is  published on the this blog about What will happen to all your digital photos when you die the premise in case you have failed to guess, was regarding the huge depository of our history in pictures that we each personally amass during our brief existence on this earth and what happens to them when we die. I focused on digital photos but an article today in the guardian.co.uk went a lot further with the premise that I had and so it has prompted me to revisit my original article with an expanded focus and with commentary on the Guardian story.

The Guardian’s article Is copyright getting in the way of us preserving our history? The issue of copyright is a global nightmare for anyone interested in digital preservation. Looks at the preservation of history in general, and how the effects of the expansion of copyright in this digital age are hindering that goal. I believe this to be quite a concerning issue, it would be fair to assume that in this digital like no other age experienced by mankind before, that we would have an unprecedented and universal access to the ubiquitous documentation of our ever growing history. But it would appear that again as an unintended consequence of technology and the artificial constraints of copyright has lead to our ability to reliably store this information to be compromised.

The article expands the focus quite considerably to that taken by mine by the mere inclusion of the internet, of which I had not included due to the false held belief that the internet was forever. But this article states that the average webpage article is only live for 75 days and then it is gone, relegated to the digital dust bin and lost for ever. I really should have known this has I have a book from the year 2k called “The Internet Atlas” and it paints a vastly different picture of the internet than exists today and I suspect that in ten years time the out look will again be unrecognisable in comparison  to today.

All is not lost, well not yet the British Library is launching a “UK Web Archive, which will guarantee access in perpetuity to thousands of hand-picked UK websites – some of which might otherwise have faced oblivion.”

The big issue that is confronting them in this effort is copyright and the DRM that the content owners have mandated to try to create a scarce resource of a truly digital product that has no limitations on the number of exact duplicates that can be made. These locks and the laws that prevent bypassing limit the ability of institutions charged with the preservation of history to fulfil their aims and goals.The locks create road blocks that inhibit the preservation of history for the benefits of all mankind by the self-serving arbiters of intellectual property rights.

But it’s not only that, look back over your life and how many different mediums of storage have come and gone. Do you still have your old vinyl records, the ¾ floppy computer disks, video cassettes? These all create nightmares for preservation, all mediums degrade over time and must be copied to be preserved, however that requires working preservation of the hardware and I think you get the picture, add DRM to the picture and it looks like for all our advances we could be left with less recorded history as a percentage of population than in our past when the recording of history was much more difficult.

So it looks like the even the organisations charged to record and preserve our history are struggling. So let’s expand the scope from digital photos of individuals to what we are keeping or preserving that will help historians paint the pictures of the life and times of 21st Century man. I suspect not a lot, it would appear that yes we are all hoarders to some extent, but in the end it all the stuff does get thrown out, some by us as we reclaim the space taken by this stuff, or as we downsize our lives along the way, but the majority of the culling of our stuff and our history is done by others after our death. If our history is of no sentimental value, and has no monetary value in the hand of the recipients, there is a good chance it will be thrown away destined to be recycled or to slowly decay in a landfill.

The problem with history is it takes awhile to accumulate; its value is in its age and its uniqueness in comparison to today. But because this uniqueness is not acquired immediately the value of a discarded item today is nothing, and it is accorded the same usefulness as trash. Obviously some body must hold on to some of yesterday’s items, and some are kept and displayed in museums and library’s but for the vast majority of us in today’s consumer society it is also a disposable culture.

Last week I wrote of the demise of Kevin Rudd and the elevation of Julia Gillard to Australia’s top job as Prime Minister in a bloodless coup unlike anything that Australian politics had ever seen before and it would appear the leaders of the G20 if the questions asked of Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan are any thing to go by, were likewise a little stunned The Australian has details of Swan fields coup questions at the G20 summit if you are interested.

But I digress; my point is that was huge news and most of the Australian daily print edition newspapers had special editions reporting this unprecedented period in political history. I have a copy of last Fridays Melbourne Age next to me, I intend to keep it, however I suspect it will in all likelihood end up in the paper recycling receptacle and not last the distant. Why? I hear you ask, well quite simply it looks like trash, an old newspaper that’s taking up valuable space that I could fill with other stuff. I know that it’s a piece of history but I’m no museum curator and even if I did keep it, it would take years to be of any real value.

And that’s the rub we don’t value history until its history and only then if it has a monetary value, a value that is measured in dollars. Our history may have a value to the next generation, but they don’t know that yet and of course their not paying for it yet and so to us in the now and present it’s just a disposable resource to be trashed when no longer required.

What do you think, you got anything that you’re keeping for prosperity, leave me a comment love to know what’s on your mind.

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