Are we in danger of losing our digital memories?

Too many of us suffer from a condition that is going to leave our grandchildren bereft. I call it personal digital disorder. Think of those thousands of digital photographs that lie hidden on our computers. Few store them, so those who come after us will not be able to look at them. It’s tragic.

As chief executive of the British Library, it’s my job to ensure that this does not extend to our national memory. At the exact moment Barack Obama was inaugurated, all traces of President Bush vanished from the White House website, replaced by images of and speeches by his successor. Attached to the website had been a booklet entitled 100 Things Americans May Not Know About the Bush Administration – they may never know them now. When the website changed, the link was broken and the booklet became unavailable.

The 2000 Sydney Olympics was the first truly online games with more 150 websites, but these sites disappeared overnight at the end of the games and the only record is held by the National Library of Australia.

There are some places on the Internet that attempt to create archives of websites but the records are usually incomplete, sparse and disappointing.

How can we begin to save what we currently ethereally know so we might be able to share that fuzzy information with future generations?

Must we have a restriction to “never delete” and “only modify” added to every web server by federal mandate?

If not, how can we guarantee not to recreate the Alexandria Library fire with every website modification and FTP deletion?

Who shall decide what is worthy of preserving and what is not?

Or is the digging onus on us to ensure everything we publish on the web remains alive in some version — digital or hardcopy — or face the wrath of forgetting what frames each of us in the context of our shared now?

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