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Archive Fever

March 27, 2011

Archives are extremely fascinating manifestations of human organisation, memory and categorisation. So much of what we do on the internet everyday is a form of archiving. Updating your Twitter, Facebook, writing a blog post, creating a music playlist, when you’re travelling or discovering any city in the world… and the list goes on. Although there have been some complaints about the difficulty of accessing older information posted on sites such as Twitter and Facebook. These sites do not yet have a user-friendly archiving system as Matthew Ogle has identified. Most fundamentally, we archive things so that we remember them, as humans we have notoriously poor memories, with archiving we seek to have a fallback.

Derrida’s work on Archives and his coining of the term “Archive Fever” has been commented on and analysed in many blog posts and online publications. Jon Stokes has an interesting web 2.0 reading of Derrida by which he examines the relationship between Google and the web as a whole. If you were to say that the internet is a giant archive, which arguably it is, then Google is an access point, a sorter, a catalogue. This is an extraordinary power which Google, a privately owned enterprise, has obtained. As the world’s most recognised search engine there have been queries about its advertising, page ranking and its technological integrity in giving users the most accurate results. Farhad Manjoo’s writing on Google for Salon is insightful into the world of the search engine and the backlash from bloggers. Manjoo identifies that Google can add the world’s largest advertiser to its list of accomplishments.

It could be said that this fact compromises Google’s effectiveness as an archive ‘cataloger’ due to its vested interest in showing the paid advertiser’s material at the top. In fact Google is using computers to grab information and present it to the user in place of an editor for Google News. Instead of an editor looking through the daily news from a vast array of sources each day, Google has automated this process so that the news is simplified to whatever the system comes up with. This is an efficient system but it may not be using the archive in the most effective way.

The process of archiving was formally a dusty experience. Going through archived material was something the general public have not normally done. Historians had the task of making sure that each significant piece of history was stored, labelled and archived correctly. By in large this process has digitalised with many copies of archived material available for all to see online. The Omeka Project has aided this transition, providing software for easy publishing and archiving programs. The State Library of NSW has an amazing website allowing the public to view historic pictures on flickr and documents on the site which have been scanned. The Apartheid Archive Project also seeks to build an inspiring online archive of oral histories, photographs and memory of racism and human suffering.

Woodeneyes blog put forward an interesting idea that archiving is a system which humans have created as a way of living an existing. We are citizens due to our birth certificate and passport, we a numbers in medicare, university and school, and names, IP addresses and usernames which interact online. We could create a fictional person, give them those things, a record, and they would exist but our system of archiving.

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