Keynote talk presented at the Archives & Records Association (UK) annual meeting, Newcastle, 27 August 2014
Text of The Noisy Archives
1. The Noisy Archives Rick Prelinger ARA 2014 Newcastle upon Tyne 1 Thanks to all!
2. Herbert Bayer for General Electric, 1944 2 I suppose "the noisy archives" is a kind of contradiction. Or perhaps something to be avoided. We'll take up quiet a bit later. But in the meantime I want to use noisiness as a scheme to get us closer to some ideas about archives, their present and their future.
3. CACOPHONY 3
4. 4 There's no better place to start than CACOPHONY. Babble surrounds archives. Everyone has something to say about their future, whether or not they know anything about it. It's a confused, disorienting, anxious time.
5. 5 Anxiety and archives seem to go especially well together. It's been hard not to feel that way, at least in the past few years. Some of this anxiety is our own. More comes from the public, from our parent organizations or from the state, and speaks through us.
6. THE ACCELERANDO: THE GREATEST EFFLORESCENCE OF CIVILIZATION IN HISTORY, A NEW RENAISSANCE. Kim Stanley Robinson, Blue Mars 6 This is how the utopian-minded speculative ction writer Kim Stanley Robinson denes what he calls the Accelerando (AH-CHE-LE-RANDO) Its a speeding-up of development in all realms: exploration, invention, science and philosophy. But it also comes with insecurity.
7. "And yet still, with all the blossoming of human effort and confidence of the accelerando, there was a sense of tension in the air, of danger.... A stressed renaissance, then, living fast, on the edge, a manic golden age: the Accelerando. And no one could say what would happen next." 7 "And yet still, with all the blossoming of human effort and condence of the accelerando, there was a sense of tension in the air, of danger....A stressed renaissance, then, living fast, on the edge, a manic golden age: the Accelerando. And no one could say what would happen next." He's talking about the 2200s, but this is also a good description of the present.
8. Digital instability Analog glut Public misunderstanding Indifference to culture Legal constraints Financial sustainability Outdated perspectives 8 Here are just a few of the issues we might choose to worry about on any given day.
9. Digital instability Analog glut Public misunderstanding Indifference to culture Legal constraints Financial sustainability Outdated perspectives 9 I don't know how my colleagues at Internet Archive can sleep at night thinking about digital instability. Collecting digital records is like collecting reies. Solutions are short-term and throttled by the deceleration of Moore's Law. As Brewster Kahle said to me the other night, collecting bits inevitably means incurring "massive unfunded liabilities." If, for instance, we go with one common estimate that it costs $2000 to preserve a TB "forever," that means that we should endow each new PB that comes online to the tune of $2 million. Impossible.
10. Thank you. MAKE THE END INSPIRING http://blog.dshr.org/2014/05/talk-at-seagate.html 10 Here David Rosenthal, co-founder of the LOCKSS project, looks at economic models for long-term storage, and criticizes the idea that long-term storage will be free. I won't replicate his lengthy argument, but he sums up his results in this graph: The graph shows the annual cost of storing all the data accumulated since year zero, relative to the cost in year zero. After a decade the cost has increased more than eight times; if in year zero storage was 12% of your budget in year ten it is 100% of your budget. (Kryder rate, which is annual percentage drop in $/GB; endowment costs.) "Disk costs are now about 7 times as expensive as it would have been had the industry maintained its pre-2010 Kryder rate. The red lines show the range of industry projections for the Kryder rate going forward, between 20%/yr and 10%/yr. If these projections pan out, disk in 2020 will be between 100 and 300 times as expensive as it would have been had the industry maintained its pre-2010 Kryder rate. I don't think many organizations appreciate the impact this will have on the cost of storing data for the long term."
11. 11 We fear loss. Of course, loss can be formative, because it encourages people to ll apparent gaps in the record. But from where many of us sit, loss is publicly unspeakable and privately vexing. Speaking as a moving image archivist (and in the past few years, unwilling digital custodian), I nd it fascinating how moving image archives can pretend to be eternal. Most are young, less than thirty years old, and most are accidental; they were founded in response to unmet needs, rarely according to premeditated plans. Both moving image archives and digital repositories aspire to collect some of the most unstable and ephemeral media forms and preserve them forever. Can we imagine a more presumptuous mission?
12. Digital instability Analog glut Public misunderstanding Indifference to culture Legal constraints Financial sustainability Outdated perspectives 12 Digital instability, analog glut.
13. 13 Abundance is terrifying. Sometimes we carefully select what to collect, but too often we collect because we can. And now we're realizing that we can't keep up with the vast number of physical materials needing a home. All too often, we address "can't" as a technical or economic issue, rather than a cultural or social issue. We are not always doing a great job thinking about why we collect and what we should (or should not) collect. By this I mean to say that archival appraisal is sometimes poorly thought through, or dictated by external conditions about which archivists aren't consulted. And without stating it clearly, many of us are asking this question: do physical objects have the right to exist? It seems both callous and surreal, but it is one of the major cultural questions of our time.
14. Digital instability Analog glut Public misunderstanding Indifference to culture Legal constraints Financial sustainability Outdated perspectives 14 How many of you feel that your work is well understood?
15. Bit rot Format obsolescence "I can't play my VCR tapes" "Don't films explode if you don't copy them to DVD?" Distrust of the cloud, the hacker, the state Dot-com phobia "I can't quit Facebook, they have my photos." Privacy worries Pervasive surveillance undercuts archival legitimacy We're not collecting enough! (before 5 June 2013) Anything we save might be used against us (after 5 June 2013) 15 Triggered by the press, the public conates many ideas into a giant hairball of anxiety. No one but us can give them clarity and reassurance, and it can be hard for us to speak loudly enough to break through the static.
16. Text 16 We don't get sufficient credit for our work. We're taken for granted. Most members of the public (and surprisingly, many people who work in the same organizations we do) assume that collecting and preservation happens all by itself. And it always bothers me when I see another news story about some valuable document that was found in a barn, an attic, a closet, a hole in the ground. Found in spite of its never having been collected in an archives. We show up in the press when we aren't able to do our jobs properly.
17. Digital instability Analog glut Public misunderstanding Indifference to culture Legal constraints Financial sustainability Outdated perspectives 17 We have to make the case for our work to our funders and parent organizations. This isn't always a sympathetic audience. To fund, as Thomas Osborne says, a repository that "awaits a constituency or public whose limits are of necessity unknown" is