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The Internet as Memory

Earlier today I posted a couple of favorite quotes about the role of libraries as institutions that hold in our collective memory things that would otherwise be forgotten. A short article in Scientific American notes the importance of “the internet” as “external memory” or “transactive” memory:

  • Piece of Mind: Is the Internet Replacing Our Ability to Remember?, by Larry Greenemeier, Scientific American (July 14, 2011).

    …[T]he Internet has become a primary form of external or “transactive” memory … where information is stored collectively outside the brain. This is not so different from the pre-Internet past, when people relied on books, libraries and one another … for information. Now, however, besides oral and printed sources of information, a lion’s share of our collective and institutional knowledge bases reside online and in data storage.

The researcher says that “Information is much more available than it was.” An interesting article, but it misses, I think, the key point that if no one preserves “the internet” (or the parts of it that we want to preserve), this transactive memory won’t be there for us to use. (The article even makes this amazingly naive statement: “And if our gadgets were to fail due to a planet-wide electromagnetic pulse tomorrow, we would still be all right.”)

This is important because, if we think our “external” memory is safe and we rely on commercial interests to preserve that information, then we are leaving our very memory at the commercial mercy of those companies. An alternative is for communities of interest to rely on libraries to preserve important information.

A related article about the same research:

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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