I’ve long been struck by how, despite the ease of creation, publication and distribution, much digital text, from email to blog posts, is in fact essential ephemeral rather than permanent. James Bridle hits on some of this in a wonderful post today that covers his talk at dConstruct2010 in Brighton. Frankly, I wonder how many times I can call James a genius before it gets embarrassing, but he is one and this is another fine example of his impressive thinking.
Which struck me pretty hard, that bit about atemporality, and the flatness of digital memory, but particularly our lack of awareness of this situation. I talked about the Library of Alexandria, and the Yo La Long Dia, and the National Libraries of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq—all examples of cultural destruction caused in part by neglect and willful disregard for our shared patrimony.
These losses, despite their horror, will always happen: but what can we do to mitigate and understand it? In a world obsessed with “facts”, a more nuanced comprehension of historical process would enable us to better weigh truth, whether it concerns the evidence for going to war, the proliferation of damaging conspiracy theories, the polarisation of debate on climate change, or so many other issues. This sounds utopian, and it is. But I do believe that we’re building systems that allow us to do this better, and one of our responsibilities should be to design and architect those systems to make this explicit, and to educate.