User:ThomasW/Notes how digital storage is changing the way

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This kind of disappearance, while manageable on a personal scale, is to historians a warning sign of problems to come with recording and preserving our history in the digital age. Ancient hieroglyphics and scrolls have survived centuries, but digital storage is fragile, the files easily swept away or locked up in encryption.

My own concern, as a historian, is that our generation be able to leave really robust records of what we've done, so that people in the future can investigate how we lived our lives as we experienced them. In the digital age, there's a lot circulating in the way of information, but none of it is kept very thoroughly. It's a spotty record. Technically, we don't know how to preserve it yet. Even more than that, what do we preserve? How do we know what's valuable?

One of the things we tend to neglect is that—and this is unique to our age—it is not just human beings who will be reading and writing. It is machines now who do most of the reading for us. For example, when astronomers gather data from their instruments in space, they don't actually sit down and read that material. It's read by their machines. They tell the machines how to analyze what to look for, they program the machines, but machines are the only thing capable of reading at that scale. We can read our email, but when we actually want to search the entire archive of our email inbox over the course of our lives, we will use a machine, some algorithm of the machine, to do the searching for us.

Another very real challenge, particularly for public institutions like libraries trying to preserve digital materials, is that a lot of the digital code is proprietary. It's owned by companies like Apple and Microsoft. It's actually not in the public domain. If I write my documents in Word, I own the content of the documents, but if Word goes away, there's not much I can do about it. It's owned by Microsoft. Libraries are having a really hard time with this. Copyright is one of the biggest problems in digital preservation and one which doesn't get discussed at all because it sounds arcane.

Is every tweet really worth saving? All I can say, is we won't know for a while.