SXSW 2012: Saying Goodbye To Your Digital Self

October 24, 2011

A few months ago I wrote a post regarding the personal and cultural significance of ‘digital memories’. The post stayed with me; it felt like I had hit the tip of the iceberg with many questions left unanswered, opinions left unexplored.  Deciding I wanted to continue exploring the idea of social networks ownership over digital memories and the possible ramifications of the mass deletion of digital identities, I submitted a panel to South by South West’s 2012 interactive program and it has been added to the official program.  My panel description follows:

April 2011: Friendster announces they would delete their entire database of user photos, posts, and profiles. This was met with an outcry from long-lost members who were not ready to let go of that part of their digital lives. Like Geocities before them, Friendster has a rather contemporary dilemma: what happens when you’re responsible for thousands of digital memories? With so much of our lives experienced digitally, the stories we tell and the lives we construct online have become increasingly tied to our real life selves. Our ‘digital self’ has a memory; one made up of wall posts, status updates, photos, and blogs (or more precisely, data). What happens when these online artifacts are deleted or lost? How much worth do we assign to these digital memories, and what does it mean to lose them forever? This not only affects us as individuals, but also has ramifications for understanding and preserving our current cultural and historical moment. Future generations will only have the digital memories we preserve to learn about us; what will archaeologists say when they find a world without Facebook? With such a disposable way of documenting our lives, have social networks set us up for cultural extinction? Using Geocities and Friendster as case studies, this panel will explore the issues and possible solutions to the loss of digital memory on both a personal and cultural level.

My panelists include:

Alexis Rossi, Web Collections Mgr, Internet Archive
Brian Fitzpatrick, Engineering Mgr, Google Data Liberation Front
Duncan Smith, Programmer-Archivist, Archive Team

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