Saturday, January 31, 2015

Preserving Culture in the Internet Age


There's a real risk that the twin forces of corporate (and individual) greed on the one hand and passive indifference on the other are going to doom large swaths of internet history and culture (or--more pessimistically but probably more accurately--of human history and culture) to utmost oblivion. 

To clarify: the corporate side of this dismal duo refers to the politically-connected private interests that are preventing increasing numbers of cultural products from entering the public domain, thus preventing them from being cheaply and efficiently preserved by crowd-sourced projects. The corporations also frequently attempt to claw back cultural products from the public domain; examples here include Milton Bradley's "Monopoly", and [if memory serves] Disney's attempts to assert ownership over elements of the Alice and Wonderland mythos.

The indifference side of the dismal duo simply refers to the fact that most people lose interest in cultural products once references to them have fallen below the top screen of their Facebook or other social media feed. If there is a guiding spirit of our age, it is surely the god of Blind Novelty--or else his cousin, Heedless Forgetfulness.

However, this article profiles the good work being done by the Internet Archive and other kindred projects to counter the two disturbing trends aforementioned. If druthers were to be had in this dreary domain, I would that a few idealistic billionaires part with a handful of millions to put projects like these on cultural and legal terra firma. (And while they're at it, could they please create an endowment for Wikipedia, and also set up an open-source, nonprofit, ad-free social media project? Cheers.)

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