Timeless digital documentation

Photo taken on a walk this past summer at Østre Anlæg Park, in Copenhagen

Earlier this year I began a micro-writing project of sorts via a weekly email newsletter¹ which was sent to a few hundred people – most of them friends. I diligently adhered to my weekly deadlines for eight weeks, until I had to put the newsletter on hold for an entirely separate reason which I needed to prioritize. That was September of this year. And now, three months later I finally feel — since it requires a certain mental clarity — that I’d like to get back into some form of writing.

With the newsletter to the side (for now), I inadvertently had gifted myself some mental airspace to simply think these past few months. And for someone with an active mind, my day-to-day thoughts were turning into ruminations, and those ruminations were manifesting into late-night ideas. One of these thought-ruminations I kept coming back to was the notion of ‘timeless digital documentation’.

For most people nowadays, social media serves as their digital repository for life moments and events. And for this vast majority of people it’s a more than a good-enough system to house these memories. Though, as I continue to observe, for a growing minority of people — myself now included — these services no longer provide reassurance. For some, that reassurance might be a topic of privacy and for others it could be an issue of (data) ownership. Social media (and mostly Facebook and Instagram) ruined things for me personally once they became platforms geared towards advertisers and the continual promotion of user engagement (i.e. over-sharing). Digressions and reasons aside — and not the theme of this essay — the notion got me thinking about our long-term digital footprint and how we might wish to preserve it. In twenty, or even ten years from now, what should we be able to extract from the archives and what will we have selected to reminisce about?

A few months ago I decided to “remap” my folders on my computer². A big reason I wanted to reorganize the mishmash of files was because I wanted to go through a process of reduction so I could compartmentalize my years digitally in way that would make obvious sense for me, but for also anyone (for example: Year → Business Trip → Receipts or Year → Holiday → City → Photos). As a byproduct of the approach, organizing folders and subfolders by calendar years helped capture and assort my memories in a way that would make it easy and pleasurable to revisit in the future. Also, it was a good excuse to cull old photos which may have been taken poorly, were “dupes”, or matter-of-fact no longer needed retention.

Extrapolating this: What digital memories should we retain online, and publicly? Do we continue to increase our iCloud storage so that we retain everything? Are we meant to always click and agree to Instagram’s latest privacy policy update? Will product roadmaps of social media companies act in our best (future) interests or will they prioritize their own lifespans and profits?

When asking myself those sorts of questions I realized I needed a better online repository, one which was manipulatable and plastic enough to work the way I wanted it to work. The solution? The weblog³. Despite coming back full-circle to the humble blog it still represents the purest form of the internet to this day — a personal website. It’s a digital address devoid of any advertising, ‘likes’, or built-in audience⁴. It’s your corner of the internet where you can do whatever you want with it — a powerful capability should we stop to ponder that.

Memories are meant to be evergreen and we should give them a home befitting of that. What you choose to share (or omit) goes on to become your own digital artefact, and thus perpetuates a process of creating ‘timeless digital documentation’. Conscious Standard, the name for this blog, is my new (permanent) corner of the internet.

Thank you for stopping by.


¹ Please consider subscribing, since I intend to resurrect the newsletter early 2020.

² A 2018 Macbook Pro, which sadly needs a service as I’ve spilled water and coffee across it’s trackpad.

³ For anyone curious, this weblog is served through WordPress as I do not want to delve into a headless CMS (yet), since I’m still experimenting on what works (post frequency, storage needs, speed, etc.). My webpage is pure HTML/CSS/JavaScript, which is deployed through Github, and hosted on Netlify. There’s no ‘follow’ button or RSS, so please return as often as you wish, and feel free to email me if you want to get in touch.

⁴ The lack of built-in audience is a good thing. It’s important because your visitors (readers) ought to stop by on their own accord, and not because of some algorithm. When eyeballs aren’t guaranteed or publicly observable, we’re no longer inclined to share updates which might not hold future significance.

Published by aselvam

www.arjselvam.com