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Is the Internet Archive Project a Good Thing?


The Internet Archive project started out trying to preserve point in time snapshots of the Internet like newspapers old photos of towns. The question is, should we? The Internet isn’t a town we built. It won’t ever be a place we call home. It doesn’t deserve the same right to preservation. I’m not talking about the portion of the Internet Archive which pirates books, movies and music. (That is blatantly illegal. At least when they pirate books in India they go to the trouble of printing them with lead based ink.) I’m more worried about the Wayback Machine portion of it.

Featured image by Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay

In truth I’m told there are quite a few efforts to archive some or all of the Internet, but is that concept really a good thing. Hey, I’ve spent 30+ years in IT. One of the first things I do after setting up a machine is make an image backup. If it is a machine I’m actually using I set up some kind of automated backup so I have a restart point when something inevitably fails. That’s my knee-jerk response with all useful systems I set up. But is that the right thing to do with the Internet.

Humanity’s Super Power

Those of us who are actual geeks like “Dr. Who.” Technically you have to like “Star Trek” too. “Star Wars” fans are just _others_. If you don’t understand that, rent the movie “Fanboys.”

Despite the fantastic science fiction creatures and all else, “Dr. Who” remains largely an examination of the human condition, especially Season 8 – Episode 10 ‘In the Forrest of the Night‘ which gave us quite possibly one of the greatest quotes ever from a “Dr. Who” episode

Humanity’s superpower is forgetting. Who knew?

As much as we talk about wanting to remember more for longer stemming off the decreased brain function which comes with aging, the above quote really is the truth. We’ve all heard the expression from childhood “forgive and forget” Well, without the ability to forget it becomes incredibly tough to forgive. Being able to forget is the ability behind the other famous expression “time heals all wounds.” Those who disagree simply lack the ability to forget.

Internet Archive means it can’t be forgotten

Now, in this Internet age, everything which gets put on the Web, even things which are untrue, get stored somewhere. In truth, moments of poor judgment and outright bad behavior will haunt a person for the rest of their life. Sometimes it is their bad behavior and other times it is someone else’s.

Take the Hulk Hogan racial slur incident. No matter what he does either publicly or privately, the stories about it will exist on-line long after he passes from this world. One can have whatever opinion one wishes about the transcript and the stories. I think we can all agree this is a point in time he would like to forget. Now take the incident where Erin Andrews was video taped (recorded) nude in her hotel room without her knowledge. Both video and stills from it continue to surface today but the event was back in 2009. It seems the worse something is the longer it survives on the Internet.

Admittedly, I do not know exactly how the site determines what to archive. The scrolling images make it seem like a scatter shot across news and social media sites. The more disturbing thing, to me at least, is the “Save page Now” feature. That would seem like anyone could save anything. Very scary.

Internet is defeating our super power

In America censorship is a word associated with evil regimes and other bad people, but in the Internet age it is something we have to talk about because the Internet is defeating our super power. Do we really want some terrorist recruitment post on a social media site getting snagged and archived because between the time of the post and the deletion the Web crawler stored it? Should we really want a terror cell to be able to submit their site for archiving? Do we really want any of our indiscretions to be stored digitally until the end of time?

The younger generation is the most connected ever. Far too few of them realize that everything they post, tweet, etc. will be recorded somewhere for all time. Well, everything they wish _could_ be forgotten. That thesis paper they were working on will find the one spot on the Internet where nothing is recorded before it disappears.

GDPR – Right to be Forgotten

Let us not forget the GDPR has has coded into law a right to be forgotten. Big search engines and Social Media sites are finding themselves in the cross hairs. In America you have to be famous and attractive to get Congress to pass a special one-off law barring your naked pictures. Even then, American law doesn’t reach every country. Neither does the GDPR. Thank you Syphilis Willie! Creating the Global Village without first creating the Global Village Council. The only way we can truly have a right to be forgotten is with a global village council.

How far should that right extend?

There used to be someone who really hated Caremark Homecare. They had a Web site linking back to articles in the Chicago Tribune and other news outlets about all of the crimes Caremark (later Caremark Homecare and now part of CVS) committed. Actual legal judgements with fines and everything. When you read them all in sequence it was obvious Medicare Fraud was Caremark’s goal in life. Under CVS it appears nothing has changed.

I’m bringing this up because the site which had everything, and was quite amusing to visit, has disappeared completely from the Internet. I can’t find it anymore. Did an 800lb gorilla finally bury an honestly disgruntled citizen with enough lawsuits to take down the site? Should they have been able to? Did whoever it was just get old and die so they site went away due to non-payment?

There has been a lot of discussion lately about people trying to get criminal activity expunged from the Internet. Should it?  Just because you were 16 when you raped a woman does that give you the right to have it “forgotten” when you are 40? Has the woman suddenly not been raped?

We have to define History

I’m a big fan of history. I’ve read a lot, watched a lot of the History Channel, written for the History News Network and even used much of it in “John Smith – Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars.” So, this may sound odd coming from a person who wrote a book where two different quotes keep coming up in reviews and comments:

Beginnings, no matter how important they are, get forgotten

So many people think things are such common knowledge that they do not need to be written down. Everything needs to be written down.

There is a big difference between Everything needs to be written down and “archiving the Web.” Instead, we should really ponder the second quote and strive for that. This mythical thing called common knowledge is what never gets saved. That is what you really need to archive, because once it is gone it is lost. Some may say the same about social media and other Web sites. To that I would answer, this thing called common knowledge once lost will be missed and the species will suffer for it. We may never know why we suffered, but we will suffer.

Ask yourself this, if the common knowledge of how to construct a Great Pyramid without power tools or motorized vehicles had never been lost, where would the human race be today?

Humanity’s superpower is forgetting and much of what we need to forget is being archived on the Web.

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