Mar 16

SxSW 2004 Digital Preservation

Last year at SxSW, Carrie and Kevin raised some really interesting questions concerning digital preservation during their panel. Speaking with Carrie afterwards, we discussed the issues that scholars normally deal with in the process of analyzing traditional cultural objects. In assembling a panel to talk about digital preservation this year, she asked me to discuss what it means when these cultural objects are digital.

In Stephen Johnson’s Interface Culture, he argues that digital objects and the digital environments we work in - our operating systems and such - are themselves just as worthy of criticism as any book or film. I think they do tell us a lot about the time period and culture that produced them and as such have artifactual value. They’re not just neutral containers for “content.”

It’s useful to examine how we use historical cultural objects now. Scholars such as historians have to authenticate all objects they use in the process of creating new knowledge. They have to assess the fitness of each of them for their particular research objective. Right now they assess them by considering the integrity of the object - has it been modified in anyway? If not, then is it authentic? In other words, is it what it purports to be, either by information contained within the object itself or accompanying information? Same goes for digital objects. However, defining what authenticity means for a digital object is difficult and its mutability means that we have to have a good strategy for determining if its integrity has been compromised.

Here’s a couple sources that discuss authenticity and integrity of digital objects:

I particularly like that Clifford Lynch in the final essay for that second source points out that the level of complexity of a digital object has bearing on the archiving strategy. He gives a brief breakdown that’s useful in these discussions I think:

  • (Interactive) experiential works
  • Sensory presentations
  • Documents
  • Data

He states, “as we move up the hierarchy, from data to experiential works, the questions about the integrity and authenticity of the digital objects become more complex and perhaps more subjective; they address experience rather than documentary content.”

Aaron discussed digital preservation projects he’s involved in such as LOCKSS, Corey shared his point of view as someone who creates digital content and Adam kindly stepped in as moderator since Carrie couldn’t make it.

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