Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications

By Erkki Huhtamo; Jussi Parikka | Go to book overview

10
Erased Dots and Rotten Dashes,
or How to Wire Your Head
for a Preservation

Paul DeMarinis

We are the first culture to experience our own archaeology on a daily basis. Consider all the drawers, closets, and garages full of obsolete technological junk that only a few years ago represented a healthy investment and pride of ownership, not to mention an aura of utility. We endure the reek of flopping diskettes, the embarrassing bulge of zip drives, and a plethora of unplayable interactive CD-ROMS. There they rest, undergoing a slow decay—the bleeding out of readability. The codes present on their surfaces require other codes resident in no longer supported mass storage hardware, to be offered up by no longer extant operating systems to software applications that are no longer maintained. These codes are rendered unreadable not only by obsolescence but by contagion. They suffer the unavoidable disease of bit rot, because there isn’t any pure information devoid of material. The bits of information are stored as modulations in the structure of material objects—as color, reflectivity, residual magnetism, buried charge—and these materials change form, composition, and position over time, erasing the data stored there.

If we, as the Good Book says, are ashes, then digital memory is rust. This is made palpable by the almost surreal sensation of latency we endure as we play with our digitalia. It is surreal in the sense that we have become accustomed not to notice it. During the interval while we wait for a file to copy or for an Internet download, we experience a nonduration, measured out not in coffee spoons but in accumulated microseconds of denial. Certainly, electrons could travel around the earth millions of times in that interval. So why the wait? Because as data pass through servers and routers, or from one application to another, they are alternately stored as speed-of-light charge packets in semiconductors, wires, and

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