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Humanity in the digital age

How does one preserve the ephemera of the digital world? In a movement as large as the Arab Spring, with a huge digital imprint that chronicled everything from a government overthrow to the quiet boredom of waiting between events, archivists are faced with the question of how to preserve history. The Internet may seem to provide us with the curse of perfect recall, but the truth is it’s far from perfect — and perhaps there’s value in forgetting. Consider the perfect experience of the theatre, where the value is derived from “being there,” surely there is something lost in producing material to archive rather than archiving the event. As Emma Smith comments: “‘Recorded live’ would be my shortest answer to the question ‘What does it mean to be human in the digital age?'”

That is the question posed at a recent panel for TORCH’s 2015/16 Headline Series Humanities and the Digital Age. Chris Fletcher (Professorial Fellow at Exeter College, Member of the English Faculty and Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Library), Emma Smith (Fellow and Tutor in English, University of Oxford), Diane Lees (Director-General of Imperial War Museum Group), and Tom Chatfield (author and broadcaster) discussed the past, present, and future of our digital world, from preservation to the ‘right to be forgotten’, from the opportunity to engage remotely to the continuing desire to hold an analog format in our hands. The discussion is chaired by Dame Lynne Brindley (Master, Pembroke College and former Chief Executive of the British Library).

Featured image: Photo by Anna Anikina. CC0 via Unsplash.

Recent Comments

  1. Paul R McCuistion

    Regarding the writing of history, it will no longer be only from the pen of the winner! Because of the accessibility of the Internet, anyone can leave their perspectives of history for posterity. All views will be known. Whether the reader will consider the source is yet unknown as the Internet, for many, gives them a right, possibly a responsibility to report their view of history and the meaning of those views.

    It is this latter point that is most important. It is one thing to report historical events. It is another that possibly carries the greater impact to report a perspective on history.

    For future generations, history will be a multi-faceted jewel that will be the topic of conversation as readers sort through the various perspectives, attempting to find some inkling of reality.

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