Archivist Jason Scott has made it his mission to record digital culture for future generations. But why are we so keen to relive the days of Geocities websites and 56k modems?
Jason Scott is a “guerilla internet archivist”. Someone’s got to be. If you’ve got some content embedded in a site that’s about to disappear, then he and his team of coders and data engineers go in there and “Ocean’s Eleven” the joint. In the name of digital archaeology, they migrate as much data as they can to a safe harbour even as the main site goes down. “We swoop in and, to the best of our ability, take a snapshot,” he says.
Scott is interested in conserving the stuff we have forgotten has value. Increasingly, our culture plays itself out on the internet, yet even now we have a tendency to view what we do on there as trivial. Or we make the mistake of assuming that digital means for ever. “The problem is, the internet’s systems have been designed as though everything goes on indefinitely,” he says. “There are no agreed-upon shutdown procedures. When users die, what do you do? Because their accounts live on, and suddenly Facebook is telling you your dead friend also likes Snickers bars. Often, you don’t even know who’s running a site. It’s as if you didn’t know who was in charge of your water supply; then one day, it just stopped …”