Why persistence matters

I was thinking I should write a post about letters, emails and that sort of thing.

Partly, this is because of sorting out lots of emails last month. What do you keep and what do you throw? A question Hillary Clinton doesn’t seem to have answered satisfactorily, but that’s one of the perils of copying potentially sensitive information to your own private mail server.

It always feels there’s just so much more ‘modern’ communications around. It takes longer to plough through it all, especially if you have LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. How do you cut through the noise? How do you determine what is relevant and what isn’t? How do you store it? And if you don’t store it, who does?

And with systems designed to be ephemera, such as Snapchat, how do you know it’s even happening?

While I was musing about what to write however, I read today’s Guardian and found an article by Karin Nyman, the daughter of Astrid Lindgren. Lindgren was best known for writing the Pippi Longstocking stories, but she also kept a diary during the Second World War.

I do sometimes regret never having started to write a diary. An observant diarist can take us on a journey every bit as enthralling as fiction, which might mean it’s for the best that I never did. Then again, this blog covers a range of topics so perhaps I have, in some small way, done so. I’ll let you decide just how observant I’ve been.

Blogs and emails are the digital equivalents to diaries and letters. How much more bereft would our world be, how little would we know of how others lived, without those permanent records from the past? We owe it to future generations of historians, sociologists, economists or just the plain old inquisitive to ensure that these digital equivalents have persistence and permanence, are archived, indexed and made available. Yes, even the embarrassing love poetry. So much of our modern cultural heritage was wiped in the late 1960s and early 1970s – from Doctor Who to plays including The Year of the Sex Olympics – that only our own content, the stuff we create and have direct control over, can be guaranteed to be ‘saved’. We just have to want it to be.

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