24 March 2015

The Importance of Written Records

I'm back with another post for the virtual book club I'm part of, From Left to Write. I was so, so, so excited to get an Advance Reader's Copy of Dead Wake, by Erik Larson. His books are so fantastic, and this one is about a subject I'm fascinated by - disasters at sea. You can read my review of the book here (I posted it on my blog after I devoured the book in two sittings!)

As I mentioned the other day when our book club discussed Thrive, by Arianna Huffington, when we do book club discussion posts, it's not a review. Instead we discuss things the book makes us think about, based on themes, characters, and content.

I recently read a really interesting article on Slate, discussing the looming loss of so many important written records of historic decisions. It was a really thought-provoking article.... what are we doing to preserve our written history? How are we ensuring the longevity of our electronic communication, our decisions, our notes? The article (which is well worth reading) points out:
The State Department is doing nothing to retain public records. Neither, others tell me, are the other federal bureaucracies. As a result, our history is vanishing into the ether. Major decisions—cataclysmic events—are happening all around us, but their causes may never be known.
When the Lusitania went down, letters and journals survived. Paper dried out. Of course, so many priceless things were lost (oooooh, the art!!!), but what if that had happened today? Electronic devices would have all been destroyed. Yes, of course emails and live tweets of the ship's sinking would be there, but how would a historian access them one hundred years from now, if there was no clear preservation method?

Another thing that needs to be considered is how quickly technology changes. Your iPhone 4 doesn't work any more (although, my stepmom is clinging to hers!), so how can we be sure emails kept on servers now will be accesible in the future? I can still read the loving, heartfelt letters my grandfather wrote my grandmother who he was fighting in World War II. But will my children be able to read the emails I have been sending them all these years? Will their children? How will they access them?

The whole thing has given me pause. I think I'll start copying the emails and random notes i send my kids into journals, to pass on to them. Then at least I know I tried!

This post was inspired by Dead Wake by Erik Larson, a thrilling account of Lusitania’s last voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and the U-boat that attacked it. Join From Left to Write on March 26th as we discuss Dead Wake. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. but all opinions are my own. Any links to the book within this article are affiliate links. 


Jenn said...

Too true! I started my blog as a way to record all the little day to day details that mean so much and yet are forgotten, but if its never printed...how will it endure?

I think I will be printing out my yearly letters to my kids on their birthdays and putting them someplace safe for them.

Stopping by from FL2W!

Thien-Kim aka Kim said...

I've been thinking about this as well. I don't print nearly enough of the photos I take of our family, but I will make more of an effort to do so!

Kate said...

I think about this a lot. There are things I worked on in college (later 90s) that I saved in the newest, greatest format and which are inaccessible now. So little is timeless! And yet paper, fragile as it is, has such a good shot of actually lasting

Cupcake Kelly said...

As a history teacher I think about this a lot. There is so much great stuff out there to use as primary and secondary sources in my classes that are fun and interesting to read and interpret. What will we have for kids in 100 years?