While issues abound with archiving digital information, I find the future of handling information to be even more frightening. As information (and misinformation) continues to grow, the weight of our “hyperreal” and technologically saturated world threatens to crumble factual integrity and exacerbate the existing issues around archiving, data preservation, and information maintenance.
In Roy Rosenzweig’s “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era,” he writes about the future landscape of information:
“Still, the astonishingly rapid accumulation of digital data — obvious to anyone who uses the Google search engine and gets 300,000 hits — should make us consider that future historians may face information overload. Digital information is mounting at a particularly daunting rate…”
As we discuss the best archival practices for the present moment, are we doing a disservice to future historians by skirting around tomorrow’s problems and not coming up with solutions for issues we know will persist? Rosenzweig writes primarily to discuss how best to archive our past and, in doing so, he highlights the seemingly fleeting task of catching up to current and future trends. In some regards, archiving is just the tip of the iceberg. Looking to the future and grappling with the implications of information abundance is overwhelming.
The inability to deal with the vast corpus of information that has yet to be created or decimated in the face of technological advancement is not a new phenomenon. In the piece “W(H)ITHER Preservation?”, Michèle Valerie Cloonan writes, “…people in the nineteenth century complained about the information explosion…the consensus seemed to be that there was too much to read and too little time”
Historians and archivists complaining about the past information explosion led to the current information crisis. However, there is a difference between yesterday’s future and today’s future. Unlike in the past, much of the information that will be created in the future could be false. In fact, we are just now seeing the rumblings of an era full of widespread misinformation.
The proliferation of tainted information today can be explicitly measured in journalism. In Robert W. McChesney’s book Digital Disconnect, for example, he…