what to keep
I noticed a philosophical divide among the archivists I spoke to.Digital archivists work to preserve everything With the mindset that you never know what you might want one day, professional archivists who work with home and institutional collections say it is important to keep the archives small and manageable for those who will view it in the future.
“The results are often very surprising,” says Jeff Ubois, who belongs to the first camp and organizes sessions dedicated to personal archiving.
He gave a historical example. During World War II, the British War Office asked people who had holidayed along the coast to send in their postcards and photographs, an intelligence-gathering exercise to map the coastline that ultimately chose Normandy as the best location to land troops.
gentlemen. Ubois says it’s hard to predict what we’re saving going to be used for in the future. Am I saving it for myself to reflect on my life as I get older? Is it for my descendants? Is it an artificial intelligence designed to act as a memory restorer when I’m 90? If so, does that AI really need to remember that I googled “starbucks ice cream calorie count” one morning in January 2011?
Before the Internet, we streamlined our collections and made them manageable. But now, we have metadata and advanced search technologies to organize our lives: timestamps, geotagging, object recognition. When I recently lost a close relative, I used the facial recognition feature in Apple Photos to dig up photos of him that I had forgotten to take. I’m happy to have them, but should I keep all the photos, even the unflattering ones?
Bob Clark, curator of archives at the Rockefeller Records Center, said the general rule of thumb in his profession is that less than 5 percent of the material in the collection is worth preserving. He accuses tech companies of providing too much storage, removing the need to think about what we keep.
“They made things so easy that they turned us into unintentional data hoarders,” he said.
These companies occasionally try to act as memory miners, showcasing moments they think should be meaningful, perhaps to increase my engagement with their platforms or inspire brand loyalty. But their algorithmic archivists inadvertently highlight the value of human curation.