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Rushdie’s digital decay

by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander on March 17th, 02010

Salman Rushdie at Emory University in Atlanta, which is currently exhibiting his personal archive, including personal papers, and electronically produced drafts of his novels.

Salman Rushdie at Emory University in Atlanta, which is currently exhibiting his personal archive, including personal papers, and electronically produced drafts of his novels.

Stewart Brand sends in this excellent piece in the The New York Times on what I am sure is to be an oft repeated story.  As museums ingest invaluable intellectual material from authors and thinkers that increasingly will have never used paper, they are finding that preserving this data is a many layered problem.  Huge Kudos goes out to Emory University for pulling together a full emulated environment of Rushdie’s word processor to recreate the digital “environment” for others to see into his process.  I suspect this emulation strategy will be used more and more…

Electronically produced drafts, correspondence and editorial comments, sweated over by contemporary poets, novelists and nonfiction authors, are ultimately just a series of digits — 0’s and 1’s — written on floppy disks, CDs and hard drives, all of which degrade much faster than old-fashioned acid-free paper. Even if those storage media do survive, the relentless march of technology can mean that the older equipment and software that can make sense of all those 0’s and 1’s simply don’t exist anymore.

Imagine having a record but no record player.

All of which means that archivists are finding themselves trying to fend off digital extinction at the same time that they are puzzling through questions about what to save, how to save it and how to make that material accessible.

“If you’re interested in primary materials, you’re interested in the context as well as the content, the authentic artifact,” Ms. Farr said. “Fifty years from now, people may be researching how the impact of word processing affected literary output,” she added, which would require seeing the original computer images.

(…continue reading at NYT)