Data & Society > big data > Just What Are We Archiving? | 03.01.16

Just What Are We Archiving?

Geoffrey C. Bowker

D&S Affiliate Geoffrey C. Bowker considers our collective archives as central cultural, social, and economic constructions and asks “What kind of people will we become if we keep trying to archive everything?”:

I have graduated to the dawn of the era of Big Data. It seems as if all aspects of our lives are being tracked, monitored, and stored for future use, and by “us” here I include vast swathes of the nonhuman as well as human world. We leave traces everywhere, often without realizing it, and these are potentially stored forever; collectively, they build a picture of ourselves that can be exploited by commercial companies (by way of Google, Facebook), governments, and aspiring political candidates.

I grew up thinking that archives were dusty, dry places that only aspiring historians such as myself could find exciting…and I still treasure the peace of roaming through a nineteenth-century set of police reports on a political group (the National Union of the Working Classes) in the 1830s in England, as well as continue to feel the anguish of what I found there. I have graduated to seeing archives as performative: they constitute the present as much as document the past.

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