What does it mean to “archive” the Internet? “Archiving” is usually reserved for the act of backing up digital information, not the work of preservation in a physical repository. “Digital preservation” is itself an oxymoron depending on how you interpret it. Preservation ensures material is available in the long-term, but digital formats are finite. Digital preservationists are charged with maintaining both reformatted and “born-digital” content. As Helen Willa Samuels observes in our reading, “Who Controls the Past,” “changing technologies and communication patterns” continually alter the nature of our records and force us to fathom and gather material in a variety of formats (111). Thus, “archiving” the Internet – preserving it in its digital format – would include backing up digital information.
In her article “Raiders of the Lost Web,” Adrienne LaFrance discusses the significance of the Internet Archive and the necessity of re-conceptualizing the seeming perpetuity of digital information. Archivists must be mindful of their resources. The cost of digital storage (maintaining servers and databases) is much greater than the “passive” storage of materials in, for instance, a warehouse. “There are now no passive means of preserving digital information,” LaFrance quotes writer and digital historian Abby Rumsey. Web content is inherently ephemeral; the Internet was founded as a communications system, not as a place to store information.
Yet the Internet has become a place where information is stored without physicality (e.g., “the Cloud”) even while no concrete means exist for digital collections to be acquired and preserved. LaFrance points out that “in the print world, it took centuries to figure out what ought to be saved, how, and by whom.” What was lost in that time? The contents of the early web, our web, will likely disappear and be forgotten in the same manner.