Your Digital Life #2

Yesterday I discussed the future of digital research and how most of us have important parts of our lives on a computer or on the internet. I alluded to the fact that it would be around forever. I don’t know this – I’m not very technical/internet savvy in terms of the future and what is up to date.  Today, let’s think about the other side.  Will our email accounts ever be deleted? What happens if our blogs are deleted? What happens if Webshots or Picasa or Snapfish goes out of business? (Is that even possible?)

A back story: In high school, ca. 2001, my family had Juno accounts.  From what I remember, we did not access it on the web, but more as a Microsoft Outlook account on the desktop (after the email came through on the dial-up connection.)  Then one year we got a new CPU and we didn’t have that same Juno program anymore. We still had Juno accounts, but now we had to access them on the internet.  The problem was that all of my previous email had disappeared! Most of it was inconsequential, but years later I still wish that I had some of those emails because some were from Vinny back in high school and I wish I could have those along with everything else I have saved.  If I had known that would happen, I probably would have saved the emails as separate documents (but of course they’d be on a 3.5” floppy disk right now and that wouldn’t help me either.)

Clearly, that’s a lost cause but for some reason it’s still in my head. What does that mean now? Have I saved every email as a document? No, although I’ve never used a Microsoft Outlook type of program again. Instead, I rely on Gmail to save all of my email.  What will eventually happen to it? Should I be saving all of my email?  Considering the vast quantity of email that I write, it would be ridiculous. However, a good portion of my emails reveal much about my life. Although I have always kept a diary, sometimes I feel like email substitutes itself and I wish I could have both.  This isn’t something I wish for so that 100 years from now, I’m easily researched. It is so I can look back on my life when I’m very old and gray and reminisce and remember where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and those who mean the world to me.  With everything in digital form, this could be a challenge.

I don’t have a digital preservation plan for my email. The only things that I do make sure are safe are all of my files on my hard drive, which are stored on an external hard drive. My photographs are safe for the near future, all stored on Picasa.  But a few years down the line, I have no idea what that will mean. 

Aside from our personal lives, we should probably consider our professional documents. How does your office insure that files and records are safe? I’m not implying that everything should be in hard copy. That can be extremely expensive in terms of natural resources and human resources. And a natural disaster can easily destroy hard copies of everything. 

I’m interested to hear what you are doing in terms of present digital preservation (historic records are another issue) whether for personal or professional purposes (and for email!) Is there a solution out there of which I am not aware?

Your Digital Life #1

Do you imagine what people will know about you 100 years from now? What will they remember? What artifacts from your life will remain? Comparing 1908 to 2008 and our current state / adoration for material culture, it seems as though no one will ever fade away.  This is good news, right? No one wants to be forgotten and it is always interesting to learn about someone who lived 100 years ago. 

Still, what about the artifacts? Aside from general stuff, like furniture, clothes, house wares, etc. the things that really speak about you are photographs, letters, diaries, or maybe a portfolio.  But, what about the digital side of our lives? Most of us keep digital photographs and emails over photograph albums and boxes of letters.  Some of us have blogs, whether something like Preservation in Pink or something more akin to a diary, only anyone on the internet can read it. Whatever you choose, much of our modern lives exist online.

On one hand, this makes everything portable without actually having to move it. You can access your digital life from anywhere: email, photographs, blogs, Facebook, etc.  You don’t have to store hundreds of photographs and worry about losing them in the process of moving.  Important letters (now emails) won’t get lost in your stacks of books and papers or accidentally recycled.  Programs such as Google allow you to have many Gmail accounts and many Picasa albums online. I love these programs: no need for deleting email (and I can organize it) and I store all of my photographs on Picasa, heaven forbid something happens to my computer.

On the other hand, if we think in the long term: how do you pass on emails and digital space to your grandchildren? Do you have to write down all of your accounts and passwords? Do you really want your life stored on the internet forever?  In the same vein, researching people in 100 years will be much easier, especially with the digitization of historic records.

It’s just something to think about: how to organize your digital life to insure its longevity and retain your unique personality (after all, there are only so many font types in existence, as opposed to individual handwriting.)  And will future researchers use things such as email and blogs and Facebook to discover our lives? I don’t know that it’s something we have addressed yet – what happens to all of the digital records in the future. It could make for interesting research – of convenience, but lacking the character of libraries.

What do you think?