If:book: ephemera

I’m bored and tired this Monday morning, but still I flick through my blog feeds; I found this: [if:book: ephemera] from the Institute for the Future of the Book.

It’s an interesting idea: that the inconsequential, unconsidered, printed matter of the day gives ‘the future’ (the people, that is) insight into how normal lives were led. Does it? And if it does, does that mean that it’s a good idea to collect modern ephemera? (oh, incidentally: I have read in old books the word ‘ephemera’ treated as singular in number, so maybe I mean: ‘should ephemeras be collected?’…) I think I am, at heart, something of a hoarder of things — words, pictures, stories, whatever — that seem in danger of otherwise going unrecorded; I must think that there’s some value in these things…

I’m not convinced that we can actually choose what records are left for the future, however. Much extant documentation from the past was never set aside for preservation; much that was set has disappeared without trace (well, obviously not totally without trace: we know a certain library might have existed, but not what stories its books held). Isn’t this what Claudius (well, Mister Graves, anyway) said in the preface to I, Claudius? That it’d be better to leave his memoirs lying on a table somewhere, and leave their preservation to chance, than to entomb them under stone and law?

But maybe we can choose, a bit, or at least make it easier for things to survive (by not destroying them!). Leaving aside the question of why it’s worth doing, I wonder about how. They say that the internet, and computer-based documentation in general, is making the printed record of modern times sparser and maybe less meaningful than that of other times (the eighteenth century, for example). In the post I’ve linked above they ask “what provisions are we making for our own mass memory?” Some people say that computers should be used to solve the problem of things existing only on computers, which seems a little contradictory to me, but (being the geek I am) I also at times think this. So I write programs that help me order things and decide what not to keep.

Oh, then I get confused and wonder why I ever bother keeping a blog…


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