Text Storage – For Better or for Worse

If the desire for immortality is what motivates human information storage, and “the rate of digital obsolescence keeps accelerating” indefinitely as Brand suggests, then a loss of cultural memory certainly could “become the price of staying perfectly current.” (1999). In terms of actual data storage I don’t have trouble with idea per se, since I think that anyone who’s ever used a storage device has–or will at some point–run into issues of information/data loss. Although information loss can be felt keenly, it is not always experienced in totality, particularly in relation to how digital distribution can lead to multiple copies of something that might otherwise not exist in multiples. Digital copies allow me to retrieve photos shared with relatives for example. The example of the wayback machine in this module highlights the existence of data redundancy overlooked in the discussion of impending “digital storage doom.”


This is not to say that there are not epic problems inherent in digital storage, but rather as demonstrated by Engell & O’Donnel (1999), in any text medium there are losses and gains and never “a one-sided effect” (Postman, 1992, p4). What I have trouble with rather, is the idea of “staying perfectly current,” as there is no such thing. Won’t there always be overlap between old and new? When Guar speaks of transitional writing for example, he states that there are no transitional texts, “only societies at a particular level of economic and social development using certain forms of information storage” (1992, p. 14). Yes, these storage mediums continually change, but is information loss always imminent?


When thinking about if this issue will become the social angst of the digital generation (as the weight of the matter suggests), it certainly seems worrisome that the time dimension of new storage mediums are shrinking (Brand, 1999). Thinking of this aspect alone, I might indeed be convinced that this will be the new ‘angst’ of the digital generation. On the other hand, could the gains of this technology not perhaps offset their own potential losses in this regard? For example, if one were to think about the new cloud-based storage solutions (with built-in redundancy) that are emerging as a service for average people to combat the need for continual information storage and backup, this issue might seem less pressing. The information transfer and storage is indeed left in the hands of ‘experts’ as Brand’s text suggests it must. The pressing issue in my mind then perhaps shifts to issues of security, privacy, sorting, archiving, categorizing, and the environmental losses created by technological obsolescence.


Also equally pressing is O’Donnell’s mention of the loss of autonomy created by the illusional trade-off of centralization for “assurance, control, consistency, and predictability” (O’Donnell, 1994). Awareness then is perhaps the biggest potential angst that youth will be married unwillingly to, as digital generations give up too much of their activities and identities online in the increasingly public arenas created there; arenas where writing may have the effect of impacting their social and professional lives for the better or for the worse.


Brand, S. (1999). Escaping the digital dark age. Library Journal New York , 124 , 46-49.

Gaur, Albertine. (1992). A history of writing [revised edition]. London.

O’Donnell, J. J. (1994, January). The virtual library: An idea whose time has passed. In Proceedings of the third symposium on Gateways, gatekeepers, and roles in the information omniverse (pp. 19-31). Association of Research Libraries.

Engell J. & O’Donnell J. (1999). From Papyrus to Cyberspace. [Audio File]. Cambridge Forums.

Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New york: Vintage books.

Image source: Steve Jurvetson. (2012). Core memory room. [Image file]. Retrieved from Flickr under CC by 2.0 license.

2 replies
  1. -E.P
    -E.P says:

    “The information transfer and storage is indeed left in the hands of ‘experts’ as Brand’s text suggests it must. The pressing issue in my mind then perhaps shifts to issues of security, privacy, sorting, archiving, categorizing, and the environmental losses created by technology obsolescence.” I wonder Bobbi, do you see a difference in the role of ‘experts’ between issues of information transfer and storage, and the latter (security, privacy…)?

    By the way! I want to share with you an initiative based on Stanford University Libraries called ‘LOCKSS‘ which stands for ‘Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe’.

    • Bobbi
      Bobbi says:

      I’d certainly say there’s that today there’s a troubling difference between traditional ‘experts’ of information transfer & storage and that of security and privacy. In times past, information was curated in libraries and institutions by a different league of ‘experts’ whose interests regarding safety and security were compatible with the interest of knowledge-building and academia. In the digital age this shifts and experts of ‘the cloud’ for example are corporations. These experts are service providers whose motivations for preservation are not the same. In this realm, privacy and security are co-opted out to those who specialize in technology rather than curation or preservation in this traditional sense. I’d trust a librarian more than an IT guy when it comes to content curation, but I’d trust the IT guy more than the librarian when it comes to security. Digital text is perhaps the most malleable of all types of text and who’s to say that if handled by new technological “experts” that the value of true curation isn’t lost? Your example of LOCKSS is a prime example of a solution fostered in response to this type of concern. Thanks for the link by the way!

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