Monday, October 10, 2005

Lost and Found in Cyberspace

Dennis G. Jerz has already linked to and quoted my favorite passage from Matthew Kirschenbaum's "Lost and Found in Cyberspace," so let me quote from another passage:
In terms of challenges to future historians, Donadio cites Steven Kellman who has just written a new biography of Henry Roth; he suggests, rather indisputably, that “Our understanding of the Constitution . . . would be quite different if the thoughts about it exchanged by Jefferson, Madison and Monroe had vanished into the electronic ether.” True enough. But there’s nothing inherent in the technology that makes email especially susceptible to vanishing into the electronic ether. On the contrary, as Oliver North and other malefactors have found out, the stuff is remarkably pesky and hard to expunge. A single email message may leave traces of itself inscribed on a dozen different servers as it makes its way across the network, a potential for proliferation that is further exacerbated by backup services at each site. While I don’t mean to minimize the very real technical challenges in the realm of digital preservation, it’s worth remembering that email and other textual forms have it easier than with other media since often we’re dealing with ASCII and XML rather than binaries and proprietary formats.
Kirschenbaum is one of my favorite scholars of the materiality of digital texts and well worth keeping an eye on.

Cross-posted to Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archive.

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