Charles Leadbeater

The web is the most conservative force on Earth

Digital technology has made us a society of mass archivers, says Charles Leadbeater. Far from rotting our brains, the web enables us to preserve all our memories

Archiving is not regarded by most people as sexy, glamorous or even interesting. Odd then that most of us, and especially the young, hip and trendy, seem to have become avid archivists without even realising it.

My archive, which I keep on the web, and in my computer, mobile phone and iPod, is neither particularly extensive nor interesting: several thousand digital photographs, play-lists of songs, endless dull policy reports, papers and presentations, some internet postings, Facebook friends and connections. Teenagers, however, are archiving their lives as they happen through blog entries and photos taken on camera phones, much of which they organise collaboratively, in semi-public, on the web. We have become a society of mass archiving.

At first sight it seems obvious that these rapidly expanding digital archives should enrich our individual and collective memory. We are more able than ever to capture, store, search, retrieve and share reminders of people and events. By tagging our digital photos with descriptions we are less at risk of forgetting who we were with, where, when and why. By sharing photos with friends on social network sites we create multiple copies and perspectives, so we should never lose anything and we should have a richer interpretation of events.

Social networking sites will keep us in touch with friends even when our ageing minds cannot retrieve their names. That clever Sky+ box will remember to record an entire series of television programmes for me even as I struggle to remember crucial things like the location of glasses, keys, credit cards and past holidays.

My parents have a large box of black and white photos in their loft, mainly of groups of smartly dressed people looking slightly uncomfortable at the seaside in the middle decades of the last century.

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