Archives and special collections used to hold documents and books. Then archives expanded to maintain photographs, film, video and sound. These additional materials are less permanent than documents.
After the 1990s or thereabouts, digital media enter the archive. If the great novel of 2001 was written on WordPerfect the software that runs Word Perfect is no longer produced. Today’s Stan Brakhage uses an IPhone. When the next generation of IPhones comes along, can we still watch those movies? What will happen to the digital “rough cuts” of Hollywood movies that aren’t blockbusters? We still have Leonardo’s sketchbooks, but the aging monitors used by Nam June Paik are endangered, even though they are only forty years old.
The preservation of digital media requires emulation and migration. Almost any medium can be preserved on a hard drive but the physical parts of hard drives wear out, and hard drives themselves may become obsolete. The answer may lie in cloud computing, but even then, the motorized parts of servers will wear out. Perhaps there are computer hardware experts here who can help.
Let’s examine the history of knowledge containers, because that’s what servers are. If we use today’s language to describe them, wax and clay tablets are knowledge containers. So are scrolls, palm leaf manuscripts, codices, and folios. They are old technology that was advanced when they were new. In our culture, the book was the preeminent knowledge container.As in the tablet, the scroll, and the codex, function, available means, and serendipity all played a part in the development and adoption of the book. In what ways have function, available means, and serendipity influenced digital media?