Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Paradox of Im/Permanence

I decided to try a new (for me) organizational strategy that I read about (here).  I'm hoping that it will help me keep longer term stuff on track better, and inspire me to less procrastination.  We'll see.  At any rate, I bought myself a little journal book, and that and pen ink seem to be the only financial investments, so at least there's that.

One of the interesting bits in the website is that the guy who developed the system (Ryder Carrol, to give credit where credit is due) talks about the journals forming a record of sorts.  I'm not sure that I need any sort of permanent record of to do lists and such, but on the other hand, we find Philip Henslowe's account book invaluable, so I do respect that.  Part of its value lies in its rarity.  If we had account books for every theatrical enterprise in the period, Henslowe's probably wouldn't garner as much attention.  I'm pretty sure at least some of the other theatrical companies and such kept some sort of records, but they don't survive.  And in all likelihood, even if this system works well for me and I keep at it, my little journal books are unlikely to survive for very long.  Nor should they.

The system is paper-based, which means as long as the paper survives and the ink is readable, it will survive.  So even though paper is pretty easily destroyed in all sorts of ways, if it survives, it's pretty accessible.

Digital stuff paradoxically is super survivable and minimally survivable.  At least, that's how it seems.  We warn kids and students not to put pictures or whatever else might be someday damaging into the internet because we think of those things as coming back to haunt people later, at some distant date into the future.  But at the same time, if I wanted to get at files I wrote on a computer just ten years ago and stored on a floppy, the standard of the time, it's going to be super difficult.  And I doubt in ten or fifteen years flash drives will still be totally accessible (maybe I'm wrong?).

I cringe when I hear someone use the "cloud" metaphor and realize that they don't think it's a metaphor at all.  But there's physical, material stuff somewhere that's storing the information in bits and bytes and such, and that physical, material stuff can be destroyed in lots of ways.  But unlike my little journal, which I can (I hope) keep track of, most of us have no idea at all where the server farms are storing information we think of as being in "the cloud."

Heck, I have no clue where my own campus's servers live, even though I store tons of stuff on my "private" little area there, and trust that the campus folks are backing it up and taking good care so that it doesn't get destroyed.


  1. I remember ten years ago arguing with my brother (who works in IT) about digital documents: he was insisting that (unlike paper documents) digital would last "forever." Now I have documents, like you, on floppy and on an old laptop that I cannot access, or at least cannot easily access.

    Many of my current documents are stored either on some server somewhere, or on my thumb drive. Will those be accessible in ten years? In twenty?

    Maybe. Who knows?

  2. Not just the mechanical bits are inaccessible - the programs don't update. So my super-useful database isn't accessible even if I can find a floppy disk drive, because nothing today can read what was done digitally 15 - 20 years ago. Thank god I saved a hard copy of the thing - but I can't update it! Or add to it! And it was done in either Lotus 1-2-3 or Word Perfect 6; so loooonnnnng out of date. still, I can't bring myself to toss those now ancient disks... and doubt that the data would be there anyway. They have a shelf life... and so external hard drives. Just lost all that too. So, as a historian, I surely prefer paper/pen, or at least hard copies. But I still have to do a lot digitally.

  3. Looks like an interesting but complex system. I'm for anything that uses paper to capture where the time is supposed to go/went.