Facing Friendsterly Fire

January 13, 2010

I have a confession to make: Tradition holds that my lineage comes from one of the Lost Tribes of Friendster. I think this news story confirms the family lore.

Internet Archaeologists Find Ruins Of ‘Friendster’ Civilization

The scenario is ludicrous, but like good comedy (and horror) can do this piece from The Onion reflects an anxiety gnawing at the larger society. In this case, the fear that the digital world moves too fast for us to keep up, that we are always in danger of becoming culturally obsolete, and that whatever we are “in to” is actually a lame waste of time. I don’t really have a good argument in defense of the relative coolness of my own tastes, but I could argue that our fear of the speed of the digital age is somewhat misplaced.

Not scientifically but conceptually thinking, time moves at different rates. We can speak of watching a film as a short 2 1/2 hours or of a long day at work, or marvel at the quickness in the passing of a year. In the experience of the everyday, time does not seem to be on our side. It’s something we struggle against to slow down or speed up. Because we are in the midst of technological or cultural changes they seem to come at us furiously, constantly shifting the playing field and testing our skills at adaptation. Part of that adaptation is mocking what we left behind — that is, of course, until it shifts into an object of nostalgia.

History and memory, however, take a slower, more constant rate that looks at the bigger picture. History may or may not be concerned with the trends in communication and information sharing in the early 21st century, but it certainly will not care about who was the fastest to Tweet the news about Michael Jackson’s death.

This doesn’t mean we should trash content we currently find to be culturally insignificant. Preservation of the day-to-day record is what will enable the future to interpret the past — not necessarily through just its content but also through the fact of its existence and formulation. This is where our responsibilities as archivists lie, but it’s also where our anxiety over the speed of the digital age should be more focused and transformed into positive actions. There are an overwhelming number of issues surrounding the preservation of digital materials, but there are also a number of standards, guidelines, and recommendations being produced by organizations like The Library of CongressIASAPrestoSpace, and even little old us. Shifts in the digital landscape make us feel like we’re being left behind. That feeling is exacerbated by inaction, but, more importantly, it is mitigated by having a digital strategy in place that can transform those seismic seeming shifts into minor, day-to-day events that are easily addressed.

So if you haven’t already, start making a plan. For those of you that have planned out a digital preservation strategy, where did you start and what resources did you find helpful? The only thing I beg of you is please please please have good descriptive and contextual metadata. I don’t want some future generation finding something like the above video, and then not be able to tell that it’s satire and start to think that we were, like, totally lame. Embarrassing!

—¬†Joshua Ranger