category: Preservation

Personal Preservation

I’m a big believer in preservation. Why else would I bother digitizing and cataloging old cassettes few people care about or a radio show from the 1990s? Obviously, cultural preservation is important to me. Similarly, I think institutional preservation is in companies’, non-profits’, and schools’ best interests so that they have an accurate, complete, and accessible archive available.

But, perhaps more important than any of these is personal preservation.

Personal preservation isn’t about backing things up (wait–you are backing things up, right? Oh, next month when you’ve got some free time? No. NOW. To a hard drive, to the cloud, and maybe to a second cloud or hard drive that you keep at someone else’s house). Personal preservation is about saving what you create, capturing your thoughts for the future, documenting your legacy. It sounds like something only a philosopher or politician might need to bother with, but let me tell you: I’d give anything to read my great-great grandmother’s 1800s equivalent of a Facebook update, even if it was just about how she was “feeling annoyed” because washing machines hadn’t been invented yet.

We have a tough time, in the present, foreseeing what we or someone else might find interesting or useful in the future. We may think we have a grasp on it and trust ourselves to filter things out in real time, but as far as I’m concerned, if it’s something you deem worthy of posting to Twitter today, it’s worth hanging onto for the future. Even if it serves no purpose other than rounding out a more complete picture of who you were during 2016’s presidential election, that’s enough.

Here’s what you can do right now to get started…

  1. Set up a folder on your computer somewhere called “Backups – social media.” Make sure it’s one that gets backed up (see above). Bonus points if it exists in a Dropbox/OneDrive folder and is backed up to something like Crashplan or Backblaze.
  2. Under that folder, create one folder for each of your social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).
  3. Periodically download backups for each of those services and store them here. Make sure the filename you save includes your name, the name of the service, and the export date in YYYY-MM-DD format (ie. facebook-ryan_macmichael-20160929.xml). Bonus points for doing this on a schedule (monthly or quarterly should be plenty).
  4. How do you download backups for different services? (Feel free to request others and I’ll add them here.)
    • Facebook: Account Settings -> Download a Copy of Your Facebook Data -> Start My Archive.
    • Twitter: Settings -> “Request Your Archive”
    • Instagram: Try Instaport.me
    • last.fm: last.fm doesn’t let you do it natively anymore, so use this tool.
    • LinkedIn: Use their data export page.
    • Flickr: Bulkr seems to be highly respected
    • Google: Google Takeout lets you download your entire Google life (including things like Blogger and YouTube) or select parts of it from one spot. Be forewarned that your backup could be pretty huge if you include your Google Photos.
    • Pinboard: Export.
    • Pinterest: Try Pinback.
    • … what did I miss?

What should you do with all this stuff? Just hang onto it. Maybe occasionally peek at it to see what’s there. Make something from it… think a yearbook of your Facebook posts or Instagram photos. Having a physical object of something digital isn’t a bad idea, really. Or, if you’re looking for an ambitious coding project, make a compiled timeline view of the data.

The main thing, though, is to make sure people know where it is. If something happens to you, make sure there are some people that can get to it and that they’ll care for it. This can be informal or you could spell it out in your will (or, more likely, a letter of instruction referenced in your will).

Not convinced? Remember this:

No one else is going to preserve you for you.

Sure, the Internet Archive will grab blog posts and assorted tweet archives exist, but what if your Twitter account is private? What about Facebook? What about services that exist only as (or primarily as) mobile apps? You need to take responsibility. Be your own archivist.

Important unimportant goals for 2015

Every year there are certain goals that repeat themselves: be a little better of a person every day, finish that album I should have finished in 2007, write more, etc. This year, I decided to instead think about the little things I wanted to do or learn that would make this year more fulfilling. And preservation, both in the forms of archiving digital and analog materials as well as digging deeper into family history. I’m approaching 40 and the big career goals and life goals don’t interest me quite as much. They’re still there, of course, they just occupy a further corner of my mind.

The theme for my list of 2015 goals is “doing stuff almost no one cares about (or has forgotten about) because that’s the stuff that’s most important (or not).” Interestingly, these items all have to do with history, archiving, or revisiting some part of my past. Maybe it’s the age inspiring reflection. I don’t live in the past, but I do like visiting.

  • Release one (two?) albums of old material, including some stuff I’ve never put out into the world. I’ve already started the process of the getting the first re-(re-)release ready to go. This may be up in the spring.
  • Bowl a few games of Canadian 5-pin. Requires going to Canada, so we’re getting our passports in order. Prerequisite: teach myself 5-pin scoring (even if I bowl at lanes with automatic scoring).
  • Finish archiving SJAUG Candy Apple newsletters from 1990. I got a good start on these last year and want to polish them off this year.
  • Launch the Raw Deal Radio archive. This Normal Bias spin-off site is underway but still needs a fair bit of work before it’s ready for the world to dig into. (Done as of Apr 4)
  • Learn more about the nuts and bolts of digital preservation (and digital preservation of analog content). Listening to podcasts. Taking classes. Talking to people.
  • Play and finish “A Mind Forever Voyaging.” I still have the original box and all its goodies, so I can have that beside me as I either play on my Apple IIe or as I fire up an emulator. I never finished it as a kid, but the game drew me in and inspired me to start on a few of my own pieces of interactive fiction.
  • Read up on the story behind (and impact of) the Attica prison riots of 1970. This will likely involve reading A Time to Die (done, 8/31) and watching Criminal Injustice: Death and Politics at Attica, if I can find it.
  • Finally launch my protected family history site for my family (with audio, stories, etc.) (Done! Announced it to family before I published this post.)
  • Figure out the mystery behind my great-grandparents’ life and trip to the US. The story is that my great-grandfather was scheduled to be executed for organizing labor strikes and he and his wife escaped the country (which we assumed to be Poland but may have been Lithuania) and came to the United States, their months-old baby dying the day after arriving at Ellis Island. This will likely take hiring someone in Lithuania to hunt down records, land deeds, etc. to build a picture of who they were and where they came from.
  • Run 1000 miles in 2015 (added 4/10/2015)

There are other more “important” goals, too, of course, but those are less fun to share.