[Humanist] 25.219 digital preservation
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Aug 8 22:00:45 CEST 2011
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 219.
Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
Date: Mon, 08 Aug 2011 02:22:30 -0500
From: amsler at cs.utexas.edu
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 25.217 digital preservation?
In-Reply-To: <20110807205106.B704D1A17C2 at woodward.joyent.us>
The real problem is that writing done on a computer erases old drafts
as they are revised. Authors would have to somewhat self-consciously
save versions of their manuscripts so that future scholars will have
intermediate knowledge of the work's revisions. Admittedly, Microsoft
Word (and probably other editors) do retain previous edits of text
(accessible through 'undoing' the edits) such that a *.doc file might
be a tool for scholarly examination as digitally preserving the
author's revisions (and typing errors); but if the file from which the
book is printed is not preserved something could be lost. As the
technology gets more sophisticated, and the same digital document is
edited by multiple parties (author, proofchecker, editor, printer)
every change might only exist in the one electronic file as opposed to
on marked-up paper copies.
Because computer storage will continue to get cheaper and more
voluminous as time progresses, storage cost shouldn't be a problem
though. I believe it was Arthur C. Clarke who posited that at some
point in the future we will all walk around with a computer that will
record everything we say, is said to us, read, write, or see so we'll
have complete access to our lives in its encrypted memory. It would be
nice to imagine what it would be like if we had such a record of, say,
Leonardo da Vinci's life as a recording---even if it was proscribed
from viewing for 100 years after the person's death. The thing I have
trouble with is the part about the person when they were alive
deciding that their whole life was worthy of such a complete digital
record. I.e., those who did think that way might not be the people we
most want to know about; and those we most want to know about might
shun the attention to any but their final finished works.
What is probably new is that we are likely to be flooded with the
collective ephemeral writings of massive numbers of people. The
Library of Congress collection of public tweets, for example. Or the
YouTube videos of countless everyday events of people. Perhap
somewhere in there the tweets of historic figures of tomorrow reside?
The future will be different in that we'll be able to study whole
societies through their ordinary population's writings. Massive text
archives of everything everybody emailed/tweeted about the minutia of
daily life, like when the toast fell on the floor and how they felt
about that; but perhaps also why tomorrow's Pulitzer Prize winners
decided to go into writing or what they thought about when writing
their winning texts.
Will future scholars think of the era before computer recordings as we
think of pre-history. It does seem more likely that in the future
we'll have massive amounts of data about some people; just maybe not
about the people we want to know about the most.
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