Yesterday’s digital archives post may have been a bit heady and lacking in a lot of real-world grounding other than the possible notion of studying a famous author after he or she died. Basically, how do we let the records of our life live beyond us? Or, more modestly: how can we ensure that they survive while we’re still alive?
Here’s a more concrete story: I have a friend named Greg.1. He’s been on and off the street for the last few years after his long-term partner Geena2 died. Greg’s only photos of Geena were on his cell phone, which was probably whatever cheapest feature phone that MTS had at the time. Greg had been having some trouble with his phone, and in the process of MTS fixing it or transferring him to a new phone, Greg lost all of his photos of Geena in the world.
This is why archival needs to be unconscious, and by default. It’s because Greg is forgetting what Geena really looked like. It’s because just as computing has become even more accessible, it has become even more magical,3 particularly to the poor and the marginalized. Reliable digital archives aren’t just a matter of intellectual preservation or perpetuation; they’re a justice issue.
3 responses to “Digital Archives as Justice”
I don’t follow the leap. Greg lost photos of Geena, therefore justice issue? Impoverished people don’t receive education on technology, therefore digital archiving becomes a justice issue? Seems a bit of a stretch. Perhaps there are some hidden premises in there I’m not seeing.
Not that I disagree with your conclusion, I just would come at it from a completely different angle. Consider the convict who has completely turned his life around. 20 years on, he still can’t get a decent job because now, the record of his misdeeds is publicly available and easily searchable. Or a woman who made some poor decisions when she was younger; she now has a family, with kids in school, and someone can find her info and blackmail her with her past.
You can pay your debt to society, but ultimately society cannot forgive, it can only forget, and digital archiving takes even that away from us. For better or worse.
The premise is: for people who don’t have the background and education of you or I, both the privacy and longevity of their data is not in their control.
Certainly. But this still seems to fall short of being an issue of justice.