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Too Much Stuff, Not Enough Documentation

Michael Peter Edson wrote a blog post in 2014 called “Dark Matter” that is still relevant to this day and will be for many years from now. He compares the dark matter of the universe to the amount of information the internet holds (and will hold in the future). As someone who studied to be an aerospace engineer then switched to information studies, I found this comparison delightful and right up my alley.

The internet has brought about many new technologies and ideas like Vera Rubin did in her field. It has also spread all kinds of information that would have been hard to find before the internet. It has also brought about many self made people who have “been making it up as [they’ve] been going along” (Edson). For a new project, winging it is fine. However, there is a point were some rules need to be written out.

As a mentioned in my post “Dead Formats,” digital historians are going to have a hard time wading through the oceans of information that we have all made. Even this blog post will add onto the ever growing pile of stuff in the internet. There is a small chance that a historian will find my blog 10 years from now and think that it is a gold mine of information that’s relevant to their research. But that chance is infinitesimally small.

Edson explained that there is a disconnect between what institutions think is important (e.g., number of time a website is viewed etc.) and what is actually important (e.g., are people talking about them and are they saying good things?). The clothesline paradox can be used here to help describe what is happening. An activity that is easily measured (e.g., views or running a clothes dryer) is often seen as more valuable then other data that is just as good (e.g., shares or drying clothes outside). In the end, there needs to be some policies that can quantify the items that are not as easy to find. As Edson said…

This is not just a matter of the glass being half empty or half full. The disconnect here is that the glass—the Internet and the dark matter of open, social, read/write culture—is so much bigger than we are accustomed to seeing and thinking about. The glass is huge, and it keeps getting bigger, every day.

Michael Peter Edson

This is relevant today and will for years in the future. There are no clear answers as of now but the internet has grown so much that we have to start thinking about how to archive all of it now.

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