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23 January, 2009

physical archives versus digital archives

A friend of mine writes a blog.

One of her recent topics involved the comparison between online journals and old-fashioned notebook journals, that reside in the physical world, rather than in the world of pixels. It was interesting to think about the points she made, regarding the fact that a physical journal has the capacity to retain elements from the physical world. Objects. Dimension. Even debris. Or physical memorabilia, like a flower petal, or a leaf, or a lock of hair, or a photograph with a date on the back of it, tattered and worn. These things can all exist in a physical journal, but not in an online journal. The physical journal ages, and it evolves. As you move forward through your space and time, it too has its own form of moving forward. And as you grow away from who you were when you wrote it, so it goes that the notebook becomes a little bit different. And these physical objects that it may contain, including the distinction between a scribble and a carefully penned entry, all have the capacity to elicit a bigger memory than just words in a standard font, perfectly spaced, with nothing more than the occasional typo to indicate the intensity or lack of care that went into the writing.

These two forms of archiving thoughts have the same central purpose, but there is little in common between them, beyond the surface. My blogging friend noted how personal her physical journal is, and how things there stay there. This would not be an object that she would likely share with the world, or with even more than the fewest of closest friends. And even then, probably only in her presence. And possibly only being held in her hands. It is her object. It is a part of her. 

But the online journal is birthed, in a sense. Once you click "Post" it is out there. And anyone can look. Anyone can show it to anyone else. Anyone can link to it! Anyone can even cut and paste from it into a separate file, to be saved for their own purposes, forever. You do not have control over it. Even if you delete it, there will be echoes, ripples, remains of it out there. If you burn your diary in the physical world, it is gone. You have erased that history. But you can never be sure that you've completely eradicated anything that is posted to the internet.

I could never make a physical journal, as she has made, and as surely many routinely maintain. For some reason, I have great difficulty choosing objects that mean something to me, and then organizing them for safekeeping. They end up in odd places. Boxes. Corners. Discarded, often, in fact. There have been many things with which I've felt this strong connection. But I do not have the scrapbook personality. I am not sure why, but it probably has something to do with commitment to myself. I don't commit a whole lot of energy to doing things that are strictly personal. My endeavors are always about connecting with others. Even this blog is as much about trying to entertain, or at least maintain an audience, as it is about expressing my feelings.

I admire the journal writer who takes the care in herself to preserve precious artifacts, and pen private poems for no eyes to ever see. I wish I had the discipline to sit alone long enough to create real art. Whether it be writing, or music, or whatever. Instead, I choose to keep skimming along surfaces, and directing my energy outward. I guess someone has to.

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