Blog Post

Response to "Digital Nightmares"

This blog posting is in response to Gerry's http://www.hastac.org/blogs/gerrycanavan/digital-nightmares posting.

"Sometimes the changes that digital culture brings are best articulated through our nightmares"

I actually think Digital humanities is a dream solution to John's predicament rather than the cause of the nightmare. Current computing solutions make John's case the exception rather than the rule. I couldn't "lose" more than a week's worth of work on my dissertation if I tried.

Every week I meet with my advisor to go over my dissertation. The night before I email her a current copy from my gmail acct. That's a free digital back-up that is likely to survive long after my Mac's hard drive has conveniently decided to quit working a week before a major deadline. The best part: this is actually *easier* than backing it up to an external drive all the time. I don't have to rummage through my back pack to find the drive, I don't worry about losing it. If my gmail acct is compromised and I can't get it back, my advisor still has a copy.

"I spent part of the summer researching at the Olaf Stapledon archive at the University of Liverpool, and as I poured over his handwritten lecture notes and meticulous revisions I was struck again that the scholars decades hence eager to study me will have almost nothing to look at beyond the disorganized 'Documents' folder on my Mac. The history of my revisions is almost entirely nonexistent"

I'm not sure how the tweet's thing will play out for posterity so I'll ignore it for now. But as to revisions, again, technology may well make our lives simpler. Ever use Google docs (or any other cloud-based service)? It tracks the minutiae of your revisions as only a computer can. Every edit is there and the temporal association between edits is preserved. You can make this history available to anyone interested.

Take a look at Digital humanities and libraries posting Bridget and I worked on. We speak with a librarian who works very hard on making that unorganized Documents folder useful. "Gray literature" (more on this forthcoming this year I hope) is a major topic of research at U of I's library.

I realize this is probably an unreasonably sunny take on technology's influence on our work but I have to say, it could easily have been John's savior!

 

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2 comments

Definitely, it's a double-edged sword (and the suspicious absence of *any* digital copies in the linked story suggests to the more conspiratorial reader that perhaps this could be someone looking to save face while dropping out of grad school). But I think again of Olaf's multiple drafts, each with his changes written out in the margins -- the "compare documents" function in Word, or similar tools in Google Docs, just aren't the same. And that's before you raise questions about the long-term survivability of digital storage media, as well as proprietary software and the problems of securing permanent access to corporate-owned servers...

 

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Yeah, to the best of my knowledge you are right on, there's no "good" digital equivalent to the multiple drafts problem. Right now computers have little to no ability to find and present the meanginful changes we'd be interested in seeing in order to get a sense of how the work evolved over time (that could be a really intriguing research idea actually...)

The more I think about it, it's possible we're on to a good forum topic. Last year I helped with a Forum concerned with issues of access but we didn't take a look at it from this angle. Maybe I'm forgetting a forum that's already covered this topic though...

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