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Past performance is no guide to the future value: remembering and forgetting in the digital age.

last modified Mar 09, 2016 04:46 PM
Dr William Kilbride, Executive Director, Digital Preservation Coalition

In the 1990’s fashionable neo-liberal commentators confidently predicted the end of history, the result of complex social and economic forces, the end of the Cold War, and the triumph of the market.  It made good headlines but it wasn’t true.  By the early 2000’s a different group of experts were furrowing their brows, holding out the prospect of a digital dark age, the result of over-reliance on unstable technical paradigms.  It made wonderful headlines, but it’s not happened yet.  More recently, these two narratives have fused in the guise of fashionable lefty economics. So we are now promised the end of capitalism resulting from the frictionless exchange: the tyrants of corporate greed be defeated by the twin forces of abundant, inexhaustible data, and open source everything.  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  Digital preservation - the process of ensuring that the value of digital resources can be explored and released beyond the boundaries of technological obsolescence, media failure or operator change - finds itself suddenly and unexpectedly relevant.  Dull-but-worthy, our tools, techniques and approaches have been resolutely unremarkable.  It’s not that we have shunned the limelight: the limelight has shunned us.  But now, pushed unexpectedly into the glare and glory of public policy debate, how will we be judged.  Our time has come. What shall we say?  Past performance will be no guide to future value.