NOTES: Digital Memory for the Future
This is an interesting discussion from this morning’s Today programme on Radio 4. Following the announcement yesterday that poet Wendy Cope‘s personal archive, including 40, 000 emails, has been sold to the British Library for £32, 000.
Are emails ‘damned unromantic’? I love a letter, but surely the medium isn’t the message, and content is more useful to a researcher than its aesthetics?
John Sutherland, professor of literature at University College London, and Richard Ovenden, of the Bodleian Library, consider whether emails really denote a digital form of art, and what impact the email will have for future literary research.
I’m fascinated by the use of emulators or original machines to access digital archives. Not only does this reproduce the idea of rummaging around looking for scraps of memory on paper, it reproduces, in a small way, the working environment of the author. Perhaps reading wordprocessed documents on a green and black screen appears to lack the romanticism of haptic engagement with actual paper, but in years to come I think this will hold as much fascination for researchers as an old diary. It’s tech-nostalgia. Just as an old typewritten document connects the reader to the typewriter, and to imaginings of a memory in a particular time, so will the sensuality of chunky click-clacking on the keys of a BBC Micro, or old Apple Macintosh. Paper and its ephemeral nature bestows a certain aura on the object, yet there is also a fragile ephemerality to these kinds of technology and their digital archives, and if they are not preserved then the loss is as great. In a century from now, researchers and archivists will encounter digital archives with as much of the excitement of discovery, and the magical quality of the object, that paper engenders today.