Saturday, December 11, 2004

Permanency of Knowledge

I wonder at the permanency of blogs. So much of our knowledge, true, intimate knowledge, of history comes from discovered works--manuscripts, diaries, letters. What is e-lost, its importance unrealized at the time of deletion, virus, or hard drive failure, by removing the physical from the process of creation and communication?

The impact has been noticed in photography as digital replaces film. Only a few physical photos of Clinton hugging Lewinsky existed pre-scandal. The majority of photographers were using digital--why save pictures of Clinton hugging some random intern? The digital pictures had long been deleted, presumably to make room for more important pictures worth saving on limited hard drive space.

When this photograph was taken, the public did not know about their relationship. When the news broke, Dirck Halstead recalled this image. After an extensive search through his files, this photograph was found. He had taken the photograph, which turned out to be an exclusive, using film. Halstead speculated that most other photographers had used digital cameras and erased any similar photos. This image appeared on the cover of Time magazine and won the Eisie Award for cover photography.

What is being lost? Certainly, the notion of losing history as documents are thrown away is nothing new. But as technology accelerates, as file formats and legacy issues continue to plague us, even materials we want to keep are getting more difficult to hang on to. Deleting the seemingly inconsequential is just too easy.

What will all of this end up meaning for my students? With what sense of their own histories will they be left?

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