Saturday, February 17, 2024



"A nightmare is facing us...they'll all vanish."

The other day, I was talking with a friend about the latest genealogical mystery book she was reading. I happened to have a copy of another book by the same author and wondered if she had already read it, or would like to borrow my copy.

"Oh, no," she replied. "I download all my books on Kindle and read them electronically." For her, paper was out. Too much clutter.

True, she had told me in the past about wondering what to do with all her family memorabilia. Her son had long since showed her the way to shed "things" and live a simpler, less cluttered life. It sounded so organized. So freeing.

That, however, happened to be a conversation we had after the latest storm had wiped out not only my power source, but my access to Internet service—for three days. What does one do in such instances, given a moratorium on paper products in one's household? She admitted that she could only continue reading as long as her device's battery charge held out. Then what?

Perhaps in that same aftermath, a social media re-posting by Public History Ph.D. candidate Michael W. McCormick couldn't help but catch my eye. His entry on not-Twitter led back to a February 15 article in The Guardian written by Jessica Traynor.

Commenting on "the fragility of social and national memory," in Ireland, the article—"Power Grab: the Hidden Costs of Ireland's Datacentre Boom"—began simply enough. Coupling the author's recent visit to one of the many datacentres developing all around Dublin with a brief review of Irish history—namely, the Four Courts explosion which obliterated hundreds of years of Irish historical records—journalist Jessica Traynor interspersed multiple concerns about the thrust to replace "tangible records" solely by digitized copies.

The author cited Catriona Crowe, the former head of special projects at the National Archives of Ireland, in looking ahead to such a possibility of digitized-only storage. She deplored "a fantasy of technological stability" and foresaw "a black hole opening in history" not only when tangible documents are replaced by storage in the cloud, but when even programs themselves become obsolete. Those tools we now take for granted, like spreadsheets, email systems, or word processing programs, will someday become obsolete, programs that can't even be read anymore. "They'll all vanish," Crowe predicts about government records. "A nightmare is facing us."

Such a warning may be well heeded in Ireland, if it awakens the memory of the country's past history. "Ireland is no exception to the rule that what we remember and what we forget are always contingent upon the power structures and hierarchies that shape our contemporary moment," concludes Jessica Traynor in her article's closing statements. But the same is true for those of us who live in countries other than Ireland. In the United States, a policy update nearly a year ago established new regulations on digitizing federal records. Many states also are following suit. 

While the National Archives recognizes that "sometimes source records have intrinsic value and the very paper itself is a physical object that needs to be preserved as part of our nation's history," there is policy currently in place for digitizing records, then discarding the original documents. 

Recalling Jessica Traynor's conclusion about those Irish records preserved only through the fragile thread of electronic resources—that history stored in the cloud is "intangible, vulnerable to exploitation, and degrading over time"—hopefully, our government has made provision for continuing to ensure that those updated versions of our nation's records will still be readable despite ever-changing technology. After all, those records not only contain the stories of the historic figures of our nation's past. Those documents preserve our own families' stories, as well.


  1. I agree with you! Ok, let's use as little paper as possible, but the ones that exist and make up our history, we must preserve them! Thanks for the post!

  2. I think huge amounts of literature are being lost with electronic books. I still have the hard copies of my grandmother's and mother's libraries. And pick up books at rummage sales. If they are purchased and deleted from a kindle, no copies of the books will remain.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...