silhouette of faces over layer of library books

Digital Amnesia – our fragile collective memory

Digital Amnesia is an intensely important, scary and interesting documentary directed by Bregtje van der Haak and written by Marijntje Denters about the disintegration of our collective memory, or the record of our history. In this day and age, books in libraries are being tossed or shredded in favour of recording our human language, history and data in the digital realm.

This documentary explores the ramifications of encoding our history digitally and explores some of the organisations who aim to preserve access to human knowledge and information.

Digital short term memory

Unfortunately, the digital depository of our data is not a reliable bank of knowledge and information. Technology is updated so quickly, that storage devices get superseded incredibly frequently. A computer hard drive only lasts 5 years, and there is so much technology that is basically unreadable, because we no longer have the devices that read these forms of data storage.

If our history, knowledge and information is lost, then we risk losing the thousands of years of progress we have made as a human society. As the founder of the Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle, suggests, if we lose our history, then we will exist in an Orwellian future, where the people who are creating the information will dictate our reality and our understanding of what is happening in our world. It is shudder worthy stuff.

Building the world library

reading room of great library with people sitting at desks and books on walls surrounding
There are some great organisations doing some amazing things though. The Internet Archive is one such not for profit organisation who works to document both the Internet and to collect hard copy books, so as to maintain the integrity of the global ‘library’ of information where knowledge is at users fingertips.

The Long Now is another organisation who is considering human history with a distant future of at least 10,000 years. The founders believe that while we may not be able to contemplate solving world problems like world hunger in our lifetime, if we were to take a long view (say 200 years) then we could very well put the pieces in place for the next generation to continue our work.

Internet Archive Warrior

The documentary also interviewed an interesting hacker, who has developed software that allows a user to archive a web page before it is deleted. This is thought to be important to the record of human history and to record our stories and knowledge.

Digital Amnesia is an intensely thought provoking documentary which made me think about all the data that I have lost in just one part of my lifetime. Already, I have lost unique creative projects, as well as treasured pieces of music, photographs of travels and of myself in earlier stages of my life. It can be incredibly distressing to think that these things are lost, not just to me, personally, but more generally from the human record.

What are your thoughts?

Do you have experience with data loss in your lifetime? What would you like to see preserved for future generations to learn from?

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