Digital Archives as Justice

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.

  1. Not his real name. 
  2. Also not her real name. 
  3. In the sense that any particularly advanced technology becomes indistinguishable from magic, particularly for folks coming at it from a socio-economic deficit. 

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