Archiving Fun

July 3, 2018 10:00pm
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Now that I’ve more or less got my server upgrades under control, the last couple of weeks I’ve been really enjoying making use of that new computing power and filling up my array of hard drives with all sorts of neat, random things that I’ve stumbled across online.

Stuff like PDFs of Interaction magazine – published by Sierra Online at the height of their rule of the adventure gaming genre, I used to read this thing from cover to cover and ordered a lot of my favorite games from the 3-for-1 sales that they’d feature.

Or old videos of Welcome Freshmen – this weird, sketch comedy about high school that Nickelodeon aired when I was like 12 years old that helped prepare me for all of the girl angst and bully encounters that my own high school experience would come to offer!

Or even very old videos of the very first season of Sesame Street from 1969 – did you know that not only did Oscar the Grouch start out being orange, but that the Muppet characters actually played a fairly small role in the initial episodes of the show???

The last couple of years I’ve found myself becoming more cognizant of the temporary nature of the Internet – simply put, knowing that a site or article or video you enjoyed six months ago could very well not be there if you wanted to go back and check it out again today. And that can be for any number of reasons…

  • the website went out of business
  • the person maintaining it passed away
  • the host got a DMCA notice and took it down
  • the creator changed their mind and took it down themselves

I’ve lost access to some great works over the years, and others I still have only because I had the foresight to save a copy for myself, so now that I’ve got servers sitting in my closet with disk space to spare, the thought has occurred to me that maybe it’s worth personally archiving some of my own favorite content so that it’s still around 20 years from now regardless of whatever happens to the originals on the Internet itself.

I’ve always really liked what the Internet Archive does, particularly with their Wayback Machine, just because it’s super cool to be able to look back at websites from when the Internet was still at its infancy … even sites that I put together myself! Right now they’re storing something like 30 petabytes of data covering everything from websites to books, TV shows, YouTube channels, software, photos – you name it!

And while I’ve got a long ways to go before hitting my first petabyte of storage, it’s also neat that the same tools that they use to archive things are available to me to run on a much smaller scale.

I remember always having sort of a love-hate relationship with my DVR once I finally got one because although I loved the idea of recording my own shows digitally and having them accessible whenever, I hated the limits of the small hard drive that they included and having to pick and choose what to keep and what to delete … because what if I do want to watch episode #68 of The Simpsons at 3am without fishing through a box of DVDs???

Mr. Plow, BTW! 😉

The On-Demand channels of digital cable were cool, but as content began to grow, channels themselves would have to pick and choose what to offer – here’s season 2 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but if you want season 1, you’ll have to buy the DVDs…

And even streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video and iTunes today have their limits because they’re constantly negotiating licenses with all of the studios – there are entire blogs dedicated to what’s coming and going on Netflix in a given month.

Although I’ve never really hit the level of a hoarder in real life, although I do hate to throw away things that I think I might be nostalgic for later, I’m very much a digital hoarder because hard drives are cheap, it’s a fun way to look back at the past, and it’s surprisingly convenient to access these days when I’ve got entire Christmas tree boxes of DVDs and CDs sitting on a few hard drives in my servers that can then be accessed from any TV or device that I own, 24 hours a day.

I don’t need to wait for FX to run another The Simpsons marathon or wonder if my cable provider offers access to their On Demand thingy because I’ve got 638 episodes sitting on 340 GB of space in a server that *I* control to watch whenever I want.

And of course, that’s the crux of digital hoarding – just because I could doesn’t mean that I ever will, but still…

Ultimately it’s hard to tell what will be “of value” decades into the future – sure, people still probably won’t get much out of the random pictures that we take of our lunches, but it’s one of those things that we don’t really know until it’s too late unless we think ahead and preserve copies of our history just in case. Right now historians are pouring through old books and VHS tapes for content from before the Internet ever existed that will essentially be lost in another twenty years if someone doesn’t take the time to digitize and archive that kind of stuff today.

The other day I stumbled upon this old post from the Internet Archive of a propaganda video created by the US government back in 1943 when they were rounding up Japanese Americans to send them to internment camps after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. It’s surreal to watch simply because of how positive the narrator talks about this horrific crime that our great grandparents committed in the name of national security, and it’s all the more relevant today as we see escalations around public perception and immigration, and yet with that video predating even VHS tapes, if a historian hadn’t taken the time to archive it, it would’ve just been lost in the annals of time.

I’m not saying that old podcasts and sitcoms will have the same relevancy as historical films, but there are many facets to historical value to a society.

I’ll be sure to post more as I collect more things and evolve my thoughts on this topic, as over time I think they might grow into a more formal effort, whether it’s working with the IA or who knows! 😉

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