The Race To Digitize Everything Ever —
One of the nice side-effects of an online life (and for some of us, childhood) is that almost all of the output of your efforts and experiences are digital, ready and waiting to be brought back in full binary clarity. With textfiles.com, this is especially the case, since people can go and find the exact file, with exactly the same formatting and phrasing, that they remember from a decade or more before. This is probably the biggest “jolt” that folks get from the site (and similar ones) because the stuff seems “pristine”.
There are a few people who I would call “of my ilk” who have this insatiable need to save everything, anything, whatever they can get their hands on. Of all the like-minded folks I have heard of or dealt with, only one of us has an enormous amount of money, and that would be Brewster Kahle.
In case anyone cares, other equivalent spirits that I’ve interacted with, met, or otherwise know of are Paul Southworth, Michael Hart, Jim Leonard (Trixter), Christian Wirth (RaD Man), Curt Vendel, and a host of some whose names escape me this Saturday afternoon.
Some of the collections of these associates and friends are huge indeed, but Brewster’s archive.org (which is, I hasten to add, not just run by Brewster alone) is incredibly friggin’ huge. So big, that when I’ve occasionally gotten my urge to “back up” a site, attacking archive.org is like trying to use the Moon as a jawbreaker. Kahle’s site is breathtakingly massive: just browse for a couple seconds in the
movies section and you realize how much data they have, in so many easy-to-grab formats. These people are barrelling down on a petabyte of stuff. For you. For free.
Obviously, at this point, a massive amount of volunteers and paid members are doing this project, and they’re sending it into wider and deeper waters. They also have enabled it to do some amazing projects that a lot of us single-person websites simply can’t do. The Internet Bookmobile is a personal favorite, just for its “you have no idea how far we’ve come” demonstration ability. A van pulls up and just starts handing out books, any book you need from a million texts. Amazing.
Except for the occasional whack-ass who doesn’t get it, people are generally amazed and delighted at these collections, because it puts everything that once was right there in a way you can immediately copy for yourself and yet still leave. There is, by its nature, no need for an “original” in the most common sense, and the “duplicates” are just as good.
Here’s some examples I think show how neat this can be: The Beagle Brothers Online Museum, the Atari Coin-Op Specification Stash, the Youth International Party Line, and of course, the one my tax dollars pay for (and it’s money well spent), American Memory.
Of course, beyond all these basically legal and above-board digitizations are the hundreds, likely thousands of people who are digitizing anything they can find, be it comic books, movies, recordings, flyers, photographs…. compiling them into archives, and trading them on Peer to Peer networks as if they were some sort of ‘Ware’. Which, I suppose, they are, but it’s pretty shocking to see “Every Spiderman Comic” or “The entire run of Red Dwarf” or “20,000 Science Fiction Books” being traded where once there was “Choplifter”. It strikes me how people are doing this, bringing all this stuff online, and some of them are doing it with all the care and process of art restorers. Where this is going, I don’t know, but I’m making my best effort to collect the artifacts.
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