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Our past on the internet is disappearing before we can make it history

Lapham’s Quarterly – Please, My Digital Archive. It’s Very Sick. “Digital history isn’t history at all—until, without warning, it is. In an age in which any internet user is a creator-in-the-making, reaching a handful of virtual friends or entire corners of the web in a moment’s notice, the line between archive-worthy material and the detritus that populates our feeds grows vanishingly thin. Thus, a paradox emerges: whatever measure of historical value our digital traces may or may not leave behind for future researchers, each individual is capable of becoming a digital archivist, holding on to whatever materials that made their online lives consequential, even if such material means nothing to another human soul. On paper, the tools to facilitate easy digital archiving already exist. We’re told that the wonders of cloud computing, Google Drive, and the endless memory of our Facebook profiles will hold our past lives in place for posterity, a constant reminder of selves we’d rather forget or those we wish had never left us. But in reality, the web remains a treacherous place for users keen on holding on to remnants of themselves, particularly in ways that escape corporate capture. As platforms and technologies reach obsolescence, abandoned by users eager to find the newest, most relevant home for their virtual selves, the cost of maintaining millions of photos, videos, songs, and memories overwhelms failing tech companies that aren’t in the business of remaining archivists of abandoned profiles. It’s in this climate that Myspace announced earlier this year that it had lost its catalogue of user-uploaded music: some 50 million tracks disappeared in a moment of digital file corruption. While publications like the Guardian predicted a dozen years ago that Myspace would exist in perpetuity, its slow death was already underway just as the digital ink dried. (Digital newspapers are just as susceptible as everything else online to disappearance: one Columbia Journalism Review report found that the “majority of news outlets [interviewed] had not given any thought to even basic strategies for preserving their digital content.”)…”

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