Are archivists pointless when the cloud can just save everything?

Talk by Erinna Cave (She/her)

Saturday from 11:20 AM - 11:50 AM in Stage B

I’m an archivist. Every day I deal with the records that people chose to save, or forgot to destroy. Archival material ranges from the sublime (Royal wills, lost love letters, newspapers announcing the Titanic’s demise) to the ridiculous (broken chips of wax from old seals, IOUs from unknown persons, too much human hair). A key role of an archivist is to decide what to save and what to destroy. But this is the past. Today most records are no longer on paper but sent in the form of bytes and I’ve started to wonder what the point of my job really is? We have free access to near-unlimited email inboxes, all our photos are backed up to the cloud to access from anywhere, and instant messaging is synced between our devices. Why bother deciding what to keep for posterity? Just save everything, let computers do the hard work, and all will be well. This approach unsettled me so much that I set off to explore what it would really mean if we “saved everything”: how this would affect our world, communities, and ourselves as humans. In this talk, I will share this journey and my thoughts with you, and try to persuade you that my job is not in fact pointless.

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