Your Disintegrating Digital Past

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It's just kinda hit me lately that, aside from the primary email address I've been using for 15 years or so and, well, ILX, pretty much the entire digital record of my life (since digital recording of life became a thing) has been m/l eradicated. Every prior email account I ever used, password-protected blogs I no longer remember the passwords to, pretty much every non-Facebook social media platform, etc. Like it just occurred to me recently that, in the wake of my most recent hard drive crash, I also lost pretty much every digital photograph that I didn't have backed up elsewhere.

At this point, I almost can't remember a time when the physical artifacts that mark my life weren't completely ephemeral, but my life up through like the nineties is still well-documented with ample hand-written letters and Polaroids and whatnot, up until the nebulous void of the last several decades wherein I am suddenly overly-dependent upon my sketchy memory in order to reconstruct my personal past.

Is this your experience, as well, or have I just been excessively careless? And if it is your experience, how does it make you feel?

Sammo Hazuki's Tago Mago Cantina (Old Lunch), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:17 (two weeks ago) link

Pretty much my same experience, and it bums me out that we lost a huge cache of photos of our kids from birth to age 5 or so. It also bums me out that Facebook & Instagram own huge slices of my memories and I need to maintain those accounts and log in to view them. I would much prefer to have physical artifacts in boxes.

BrianB, Friday, 14 February 2020 13:33 (two weeks ago) link

sketchy memory = optimal way to reconstruct a personal past imo

I feel like photgraphic/textual records are as distorting as our faulty memories, in that they tend to flatten experiences on a single plane

this is like a get out of jail free card, RUN

Suggest Banshee (Hadrian VIII), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:40 (two weeks ago) link

Ugh, I can't imagine how much worse this phenomenon is for people with kids.

Thankfully, I occasionally maintain incredibly archaic traditions, like the trusty minicassette recorder I've used for well over twenty years. Those tapes filled with my blathering and the drunken ravings of friends passin' the mic have stood the test of time.

Sammo Hazuki's Tago Mago Cantina (Old Lunch), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:40 (two weeks ago) link

i recently had two hard disks die on me within the space of six weeks and it's only because i was uncharacteristically cautious about having a redundancy backup that i didn't lose a year-and-a-half's worth of irreplaceable digital pictures of my daughter

i've now bought a raid array to store those images and a bunch of others from the last 15 years, and i'll be uploading everything to backblaze this weekend because i'm now super-paranoid

with pictures in particular it feels like the tradeoff of the convenience and relative cheapness of digital photography is that everyone has literally thousands more pictures than they would have 30 years ago but at least those photos were physical things - one hard drive glitch or hacked account and your thousands of pictures might be gone forever

Homegrown Georgia speedster Ladd McConkey (bizarro gazzara), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:42 (two weeks ago) link

personal caveat that yeah it would be crushing to lose pictures of my kids....but that for me the experience of sorting through many fewer, randomly printed photos is immensely more satisfying than scrolling through a digital timeline

Suggest Banshee (Hadrian VIII), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:43 (two weeks ago) link

god I fuckin wish

BSC Joan Baez (darraghmac), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:43 (two weeks ago) link

uh re first post about online history being eradicated, not losing everything personally

our physical record was mostly taken out in a house fire in 2005 so yknow theres arguments for digital, offline obv

BSC Joan Baez (darraghmac), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:45 (two weeks ago) link

i keep meaning to put together some photo books from this immense trove of digital daughterphotos just so that after the apocalypse we'll be able to look at them by the light of tracer fire streaking across our burned-out roof

Homegrown Georgia speedster Ladd McConkey (bizarro gazzara), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:45 (two weeks ago) link

I just reflect often on how little we know about entire civilizations whose records of existence have crumbled into dust, and how much we know about peoples' lives in the middle distance because they corresponded copiously, the product of which was often archived and bound and printed for the world to see. There's definitely a +/- to our reliance upon external record keeping in maintaining a picture of the past, but it's definitely a little weird and sad to think that entire generations of people currently living will, despite their propensity for pouring out every last thought into the internetosphere, most likely disappear altogether from the historical record once the storage devices containing our internetospheriphizing inevitably fail.

Sammo Hazuki's Tago Mago Cantina (Old Lunch), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:45 (two weeks ago) link

best practice is basically two copies of a local backup (ideally one offsite), one in the cloud and print any photos that are particularly meaningful but who's got the time to act as a painstakingly thorough archivist of their own lives and works tbrr

Homegrown Georgia speedster Ladd McConkey (bizarro gazzara), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:47 (two weeks ago) link

12 year-old i-pod plus load of downloaded music on an external hard-drive means I keep randomly losing tracks, always the ones I really want to hear.

fetter, Friday, 14 February 2020 13:50 (two weeks ago) link

I feel like photgraphic/textual records are as distorting as our faulty memories

Not untrue, though to be more precise I'd say that the archival records ware what distort our memories. Recalling memories distorts memories, no matter what it is that lead to the recalling.

I've never been structured in making back-ups and keeping my digital past preserved; I can save it, but am terrible at organising and making it searchable. Which almost makes it as unusable as not saving it at all.

I'm actually backing up an old pc right now, from 2012-2016-ish, before I destroy the hd and toss it out. I want to save what I have on there, yet I doubt I'll ever a) need it, or b) have the time to look at it again.

My writing is pretty well preserved, but all the rest (emails, blog stuff, photos my god... the photos) is all over the shop.

Le Bateau Ivre, Friday, 14 February 2020 13:50 (two weeks ago) link

*ware = are

Le Bateau Ivre, Friday, 14 February 2020 13:50 (two weeks ago) link

The thing wrt my recent photo loss is I was using an online backup service to back up my shizz and only realized after my drive failed that the backup service had failed to backup properly in a very long time and had never actually backed up the entirety of my drive in the first place. And now it's this slow trickle of memories returning to me of, oh yeah, I used to have this and that and now this and that are gone forever.

Sammo Hazuki's Tago Mago Cantina (Old Lunch), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:51 (two weeks ago) link

jesus wept don't tell me that right before i start using an online backup service ffs, i'm paranoid enough as it is

Homegrown Georgia speedster Ladd McConkey (bizarro gazzara), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:53 (two weeks ago) link

brb gonna print several hundred thousand images on professional grade archival paper

Homegrown Georgia speedster Ladd McConkey (bizarro gazzara), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:53 (two weeks ago) link

Yeah, thankfully I've at least had the foresight to mostly remain a luddite wrt writing. A quality I frequently curse when I go back to transcribe stuff for the sake of editing material digitally, but I can live with it.

Sammo Hazuki's Tago Mago Cantina (Old Lunch), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:54 (two weeks ago) link

i keep meaning to put together some photo books from this immense trove of digital daughterphotos just so that after the apocalypse we'll be able to look at them by the light of tracer fire streaking across our burned-out roof

we did this recently thru a site called lalalab, pretty pleased with the results.

van dyke parks generator (anagram), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:55 (two weeks ago) link

I got really aware that I had no tangible records of my son's early years, so I started taking film pictures of him and making albums. Which is the faff it always was, but is satisfying and good.

Now that photo book printing services are getting insanely cheap I think I'm going to start making books. It's startling how cheap that market has become

stet, Friday, 14 February 2020 13:57 (two weeks ago) link

I also weirdly-but-happily printed out a lot of personal emails when personal emails were first becoming a thing, looking askance at this odd 'internet' doodad and assuming it might just be a passing fad.

Sammo Hazuki's Tago Mago Cantina (Old Lunch), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:57 (two weeks ago) link

yeah, i made a really nice, affordable hardback collection of photos from our wedding and honeymoon a few years ago, so there's no excuse for me not to do it other than laziness really xp

Homegrown Georgia speedster Ladd McConkey (bizarro gazzara), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:58 (two weeks ago) link

everything is impermanent, we will ultimately lose everything, including our memories

i make copious backups of the stuff that's important to me. i accept that despite my best efforts i will still, eventually, lose it all. i try to enjoy what i have while i have it.

you know my name, look up the number of the beast (rushomancy), Friday, 14 February 2020 13:59 (two weeks ago) link

Rule one of life is always keep an online backup, fucking hell if I lost what's on my laptop without that it would be the last 20 years wiped.

The first 20 years, otoh, I kept boxes of mostly scraps of paper, some of them with dates, I am trying to sort / index them all for a thing, but it's really difficult as things in there have a tendency to really set me off (most recently a note left by a girl I spent 24/7 with for a couple of months in 2002 then never saw again)

I left boxes of stuff with people when I left the UK (also in 2002) - some survived the whole time in my mum's loft (through 3 house moves!) only to be killed by damp and mould in my garage last winter. Some (for example 95% of my LPs) were lost by careless friends who I (idiotically) trusted to keep things for decades.

Wuhan!! Got You All in Check (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Friday, 14 February 2020 14:03 (two weeks ago) link

This is almost the exact opposite for me. I have under 30 photos of myself during the 90s (ages 17-27). My parents probably have a few more but I wasn't big on photos. I definitely wish I had more photos of me and my friends back then as I have almost none.

From 1999 on when I started dating my wife, I have loads of photos because she loves taking photos - physical albums from 2000-2009 or so, then backed up digital photos to present.

We're jumping on the road with @Nickelback this summer! (PBKR), Friday, 14 February 2020 14:03 (two weeks ago) link

worst archive = rotting self-burned CDs of videos, may as well bin them

Wuhan!! Got You All in Check (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Friday, 14 February 2020 14:04 (two weeks ago) link

Part of what prompts my ponderances: while one quarter of my family tree has been recorded in fine detail going back to the early 18th Century, I know essentially nothing about the other 3/4 beyond the generations with whom I have interacted personally. It's just so goddamn weird that so much of my ancestral past is just a blur, and it's weird to think about how much more common a phenomenon that's likely to be the longer we're reliant upon our Blackberries and our Zunes.

Sammo Hazuki's Tago Mago Cantina (Old Lunch), Friday, 14 February 2020 14:09 (two weeks ago) link

My parents have both done the ancestry thing, half of my mum's family are missing from history because of what happened to all the Irish records.

Wuhan!! Got You All in Check (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Friday, 14 February 2020 14:12 (two weeks ago) link

I'm pro-entropy tbh.

romanesque architect (pomenitul), Friday, 14 February 2020 14:12 (two weeks ago) link

Phenomena like this certainly discourage me from fighting too hard against it.

Sammo Hazuki's Tago Mago Cantina (Old Lunch), Friday, 14 February 2020 14:14 (two weeks ago) link

I back up stuff endlessly, so I'm well covered; what will happen is that I'll die and leave behind thousands of CDs never burned and photographs never printed. The one bad experience I had was many years ago, when I opened up Outlook one day and it reached into my main e-mail account and automatically moved everything over (I remember not knowing what was going on until it was too late). Everything stayed there for a few years, but I lost 10 years' worth of e-mail when that computer died (why I back everything up now).

clemenza, Friday, 14 February 2020 14:16 (two weeks ago) link

I still have text files, images and MP3s from the 90s on an external drive after a dozen or so migrations since. Proud digital hoarder tbh regardless of whether there is ever any use for any of it ever again.

nashwan, Friday, 14 February 2020 14:20 (two weeks ago) link

I just recently happened upon a DVD-R containing all of my essays etc from college. It evoked mixed feelings of 'oh wow can't believe I still have all this stuff' and 'aw man this is precisely the opposite of the digital record I wish I still had of my college years'.

Sammo Hazuki's Tago Mago Cantina (Old Lunch), Friday, 14 February 2020 14:24 (two weeks ago) link

i'm glad to be a digital hoarder but mostly because it's what saves me from being an analog hoarder, that shit is scary to me

you know my name, look up the number of the beast (rushomancy), Friday, 14 February 2020 14:26 (two weeks ago) link

when I was at sixth form I wrote a lot on microsoft works. I still have the files, but the only way to open them is to run a windows 95 emulator with a copy of the software, and even then the formatting is fucked.

Wuhan!! Got You All in Check (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Friday, 14 February 2020 14:26 (two weeks ago) link

Sad lol, yes. Love to think of the various design and digital animation files I created in programs that no longer exist.

Sammo Hazuki's Tago Mago Cantina (Old Lunch), Friday, 14 February 2020 14:31 (two weeks ago) link

before we moved house last year and lost track of it there was a zip disk in our kitchen drawer containing music notation files my wife wrote at university which lived there for 12 years and which she'd long since been unable to access because who the fuck has a zip drive post-mid-2000s

Homegrown Georgia speedster Ladd McConkey (bizarro gazzara), Friday, 14 February 2020 14:34 (two weeks ago) link

I still have a folder named "zipdisk" which contains a bunch of stuff I put on said format - my Dad had a zip drive, I was allowed to borrow it but could only afford 1 disk of my very own - in the mid/late 90s and have copied between several PCs since. it has some very bad music and very bad "art" and very bad unfinished games I made aged 15-18, plus a small selection of other people's music (in .mod & other tracker formats) that I particularly loved at the time, and from time to time I fish it out in a fit of nostalgia

(most of the "other people's music" is still freely available on the internet, but still missing some things I fondly remember from the 90s; I sometimes wish I'd kept more but disk space was expensive then, and you can never guess what's actually going to become obscure and what isn't, never mind what you'll suddenly remember nostalgically one drunken evening 25 years later)

other things I know I "kept" but I am very bad at organising my digital life so everything is just a jumble of files within many other jumbles of files. There's a particular hard disk with some student-era stuff which may still be bundled up somewhere inside boxes of junk in my wardrobe, if it would even still be readable; other disks have been haphazardly copied from PC to PC and ended up in directories with stupid names like C:\spacecadet\stuff\backups\2007pc\files\backups\2003pc\seagate_60gb\copy2 etc, but good luck finding anything

a passing spacecadet, Friday, 14 February 2020 15:05 (two weeks ago) link

photos would be a particular problem if I ever felt the need to look for them - I have no kids but yes, one day my loved ones will no longer be here and I will want to see photos and this will cause me pain - because in the past I copied them off the SD card mainly to free up card space. So I just have a bunch of "photos" folders in different places with different incomplete overlapping vintages of unweeded mostly-junk photos, and some eras have probably just... disappeared. Now I don't really need the space either so don't copy them often and I'm sure that will be bad in its way too.

then there are the blogs and email accounts which seemed like they'd be around forever and I never consciously decided not to log in again, I just didn't, and they probably disappeared at least a decade ago

given the chaos of photos and nth-generation copies buried many poorly-named folders deep, I'd love to agree with rushomancy

i'm glad to be a digital hoarder but mostly because it's what saves me from being an analog hoarder

but tbh my physical space is just as haphazardly piled high with ancient junk mixed with forgotten treasures and trashy nostalgia bombs and I'm just as terrible at organising or getting rid of physical stuff - perhaps you're right that it would be a lot worse without the digital hoarding, though, but that's too scary to contemplate

a passing spacecadet, Friday, 14 February 2020 15:18 (two weeks ago) link

yep to all of that re how haphazardly my stuff has been thrown from place to place, nested lumps of pics within folders by month and place and drive and device

hate to say it but google photos has been a bit of use to me in starting to build one useful archive of it all tbh

BSC Joan Baez (darraghmac), Friday, 14 February 2020 15:37 (two weeks ago) link

the details of my life are quite inconsequential

babby bitter (Noodle Vague), Friday, 14 February 2020 15:39 (two weeks ago) link

I keep lists of all my favorite artists so if my HD screws up I can search all the stuff again. Not perfect but that is the measures I'm comfortable with.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 14 February 2020 21:00 (two weeks ago) link

my film polls stills are wrecked bc of photobucket, which i won't be paying for.

ILX's Top 100 Films of the 2000s, screencaps version

omar little, Friday, 14 February 2020 21:03 (two weeks ago) link

hate to say it but google photos has been a bit of use to me in starting to build one useful archive of it all tbh

Done this myself. Pretty handy.

Ned Raggett, Friday, 14 February 2020 21:37 (two weeks ago) link

I had a sudden memory the other day of being in a place in a European city. Could not for the life of me work out where it might have been. It was a time when I had a very basic camera phone and took perhaps a handful of photos the whole time. I've tried streetview and doing a CSI on the one picture I took of a funnily-named cafe but I don't even know if that was the same city I'm thinking of.
These days I'd have way more of a digital record I could check against. I'm more distraught that whole chunks of my memory are disintegrating tho. Anyone else get a very random, vivid, long-forgotten memory pop into their head as you're falling asleep?

I still have my emails from 1997 or so onwards.

kinder, Friday, 14 February 2020 23:07 (two weeks ago) link


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