The Internet Is Deleting Real History Of The Past

Written by Thomas Bennett.

Last year, author Nanna Thylstrup highlighted the precarious nature of our digital past. Old blogs filled with personal memories and vibrant community interactions are often deleted without notice by both platforms and users alike. This troubling trend poses significant challenges to digital preservation efforts, even for institutions like the Internet Archive.

The Erosion of Digital Access: The Vanishing of Cultural Artifacts

Streaming platforms frequently remove movies and TV shows, leaving us to discover that our old VCRs are useless and DVDs out of print. Search engines that once made accessing information straightforward are now losing their efficacy, complicating our ability to find important historical data.

Personal Losses in the Digital Realm

Many of us have experienced the loss of significant portions of our adolescence that were once documented in services like Photobucket. These platforms have become inaccessible, and attempts to revisit them are met with the reality of forgotten passwords, closed accounts, and obsolete hardware. Unlike traditional photo albums, digital memories are vulnerable to being lost in a move or discarded by technology updates.

The Casualties of Big Tech’s Data Dominion

Our casual approach to online content often leads us to overlook the importance of the digital footprints we leave behind. Vital interactions in Facebook groups and private LiveJournal communities that helped shape entire subcultures are now disappearing into the void, unarchived and forgotten. Big Tech companies systematically collect and discard our data, frequently without our consent or ability to intervene.

Challenges in Digital Archiving: Judith May Fathallah’s Archival Struggles

In her book “Emo: How Fans Defined a Subculture,” Judith May Fathallah discusses the difficulties of accessing reliable sources that adequately preserve the history she aims to document. The digital platforms she researched often don’t prioritize preservation or are challenging to navigate, making her historical work all the more difficult.

The Politics of Digital History

The politically charged nature of internet culture reporting exacerbates the problem, as journalists often miss the nuanced realities of digital subcultures. As a result, many digital communities have become insular and wary of outsiders, fearing misrepresentation or misunderstanding. The rich lore of the online world risks being lost as these communities dissolve or transform.

Our Take

The instability and transience of our digital history necessitate a greater urgency in preservation efforts. “It’s just the internet” is a dismissive attitude that overlooks the significant cultural, personal, and historical value of what we create and interact with online. Without a concerted effort to preserve these digital artifacts, future generations may have a fragmented or even distorted view of our current era. As we continue to navigate this digital age, we must prioritize the documentation and safeguarding of our online legacies to ensure they endure beyond the fleeting moments of their creation.

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