"When I, poor elf, shall have vanished in vapor,
May still my memory live —on paper."
—Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms, 1891.
On previous occasions I've already addressed why digitizing information is very different from preserving it (see http://www.thisvictorianlife.com/blog/digitization-does-not-equal-preservation ). I recently encountered a very personal example of the concept.
With Valentine's Day approaching, I was looking over a box of old love letters which Gabriel and I had written to each other over the years.
In the box with all the letters there was an interesting artifact:
I knew exactly what it was: a computer disk (from the days when computers still had disk drives), containing files of all the e-mails we'd written to each other when we first met.
It's been years since we've had a computer that could read such a disk, and even if we found someone who still owned one, it's extremely likely that the magnetic storage within such a disk degraded a long time ago and the files are gone, gone, gone. All those sweet words we wrote to each other: still on the paper of the letters we sent to each other, gone from digital media. Alive in our hearts, of course, but with the fuzzy, blurred edges of memory, not the sharp crispness of when we'd written them.
Luckily, I am one of the most eccentric people on earth, and both of us foresaw this problem of digital media a long time ago. After coming across this disk, I walked over to a nearby bookshelf, took down two very substantial, hand-bound volumes, and smiled to myself in a very smug fashion.
Back when I'd learned to how to make a hand-bound book, I'd gone back through all those old computer files, printed them out, and bound them together. Eccentric? Quite. Archaic? Perhaps. But enduring. So we haven't lost our history. It never would have disappeared from our hearts, but it hasn't disappeared in the physical world, either.
Incidentally, anyone interested in the superior staying power of paper over digital technologies should read the story of Britain's Domesday Book. The paper version made by Norman monks in the year 1086 is still useable and in fine condition. The digital version made in 1986 at a cost of 2.5 billion British pounds is now obsolete and unreadable. For more information, please see this article: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/mar/03/research.elearning