Weighing Accessibility vs. Sustainability

I think the concern of electronic sustainability is the greatest argument for maintaining print copies of history. Historical information preserved online brings with it the benefit of increased accessibility, but also the risk of loosing that history forever if a technological error were to occur.  The websites we visited this week that serve as archives of personal experiences of events are one of the great advantages of preserving historical moments online.  With the archive websites for hurricanes and Mason Basketball, people are able share their personal experiences and memories. This is a huge advantage exclusive to the internet.  To read testimonials such as these without the internet, one would have to compile such stories and publish them in a book that would be much less accessible than visiting a website. Directly uploading your story to one of these archived sites gives the reader a more intimate experience than if they were to read hand-picked stories that a publisher thought were worth sharing.  It gives the reader the opportunity to decide what is important to them.

In the article, Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era, Rozenweig addresses the concerns of having only digitized history.  Concerns include information overload, lost information due to glitches or  lack of life-span, and growing legal issues in the online world.

The biggest issue I have identified that lends itself well to the argument for keeping print copies of everything, is the short life-span of digital material and the distinct possibility that information can be lost without any way to recover it.  Rozenweig writes,

Many believe–incorrectly–the central problem to be that we are storing information on media with surprisingly short life spans. To be sure, acid-free paper and microfilm last a hundred to five hundred years, whereas digital and magnetic media deteriorate in ten to thirty years. But the medium is far from the weakest link in the digital preservation chain. Well before most digital media degrade, they are likely to become unreadable because of changes in hardware (the disk or tape drives become obsolete) or software (the data are organized in a format destined for an application program that no longer works). The life expectancy of digital media may be as little as ten years, but very few hardware platforms or software programs last that long. Indeed, Microsoft only supports its software for about five years.

As illustrated above, no matter how the technology becomes unreadable, it is inevitable, and will happen long before print text becomes unusable.

Throughout the semester, we have explored the many advantages of recording history digitally.  I think it is necessary to continue down this path if historians are going to compete in this ever-growing digital age.  While we try to grow our online presence and utilize such tools, it is also important to remember the flaws and risks of technology.  While utilizing the advantages of the internet, it is important to not disregard the enduring time of print history. 

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