Academic journal article Extrapolation

Whose Archive?: Questions of Access to Information and Memory in Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

Academic journal article Extrapolation

Whose Archive?: Questions of Access to Information and Memory in Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

Article excerpt

Contemporary developed societies may be characterized not only by the unprecedented speed at which the amount of preserved information increases-with which various types of archive grow in size-but also by the democratization of access to these archives. This phenomenon has its origins in the growing popularity of digital media in general and the internet in particular: technologies which facilitate various means of storage and retrieval of information. Digital technologies are responsible not only for facilitating the storage of information traditionally understood as archival, but for the appearance of new types of archive, which, in turn, change the range of things deemed worthy of being preserved, and thus remembered. These changes are the focus of studies conducted within various social sciences, among them media theory and archival science, where one of the main themes is the issue of access to a variety of modern archives, as more and more things-starting with the least important administrative decisions and ending with pictures from individuals' private, often intimate, experiences-are recorded. This development gives rise to the question of who should be allowed not only to view these records but also to publish them, potentially in edited, changed, or manipulated versions. Growing digital records also prompt research into the changing relationship between personal and collective memory, as well as studies on the influence of digital archives on human creativity.

However, in the search to understand the phenomenon of modern archives one can also turn to science fiction, which has always been concerned with technology, and today is particularly well-suited to comment on the changing world, as the speed of change brings us to a situation in which reality seems to catch up with science fiction scenarios. It could be argued that the advantage of science fiction over purely theoretical works is that it allows the reader to see the new technologies in, as it were, a more natural context of the world as experienced by people simply living in it, in contrast to seeing them abstracted from this natural context by theoretical thought.

This article focuses on the way in which the issue of access to archives-in their current forms but also those that are only imagined but can be considered as highly probable-is represented in the science fiction novel Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge. Set in the 2020s, the novel sketches the vision of the world of a not-so-distant future dominated by technology. The twenty or so years between the time in which the novel is set and the time in which it was written allow Vinge to extrapolate from the situation in the early years of the twentyfirst century to present probable developments in the near future. His main interest seems to lie in the field of communications and data storage, as he explores issues connected with the sending and receiving of newly created information but also with ways of gaining access to stored data and methods of information storage. As a result, much of his attention is directed at what could be termed "archives" in the modern sense of this world.

The first part of this article focuses on the way in which Vinge's novel reflects the issue of the broadening scope of official and public archives resulting from the digitization of records. His vision of the consequences of easier access to digitized archives, on the one hand, and methods of frustrating searches in them, on the other, is presented in the context of current theoretical discussions concerned with the general idea of the archive and, especially, with the fate of archives in the digital era. Then the article moves on to the problem of access to personal archives, exploring questions of security and surveillance, as well as the changing relationship between personal and collective memory. Finally, the article focuses on the way in which Vinge shows how easier access to digital archives may influence human creativity. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.