Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Internet as The Great Archive

Back in the 1990's, many of us encountered a fever much more virulent and quick spreading then the Bird Flu that is so worrisome today. It was, of course, Internet Fever. The symptoms were lightheadedness, delusions, and an unnaturally pale complextion.

I jest, of course. Bird Flu is s deadly serious threat to the health and well being of millions of people. However, there was kind of irrational sense of the importance of the Internet on world culture. A favorite saying at the time was that the "Internet will change everything". As we all know, that's not true. We still have mortgages, go to the bathroom, and have to get the car fixed. Life is not that different. Life has been speeding up constantly since the 1800's. Industrialization, electricifcation, and mass media had a much more profound effect on the pace of life.

What the Internet has allowed us to do is to store and retrieve information on a scale never before seen in human history. By combining the information store of everyone, together, we are unbound from the constraints of place and time. We do not have to go to the library or wait for a letter to arrive. We ask for information and it is there.

Despite all it's pretentions of newness, the Internet has become a great repository of historical information. Thousands of websites provide information about the smallest events and trends in human culture. Primary historical sources, that were previously available
only to select scholars (such as immigration records from Ellis Island), are now available for all to use. Even better, historical and cultural information that would have taken years to accumulate and publish are available almost as fast as they happen. We no longer have to wait until someone publishes a book for the masses to learn about recent history.

No where is this more evident then in the
sites devoted to recent cultural history . Want to know what the top song was on this day in 1984? It's on any of a dozen websites. Top grossing movie of 1975? That's there too. Interested in the fall television schedule of 1968? Try

Not only is this information now readily available to scholars, amateur historians, and the simply curious, but much information that may have been discarded is preserved. Opinions, interviews, polls, and articles that may not have been preserved are saved for posterity. Even the history of the Internet itself is being saved for future generations. The wonderful site The Wayback Machine stores old copies of web sites going back to the mid 1990's. It is not only major sites like Yahoo that are archived (although looking at the Yahoo front page from 1996 is a hoot), but small ones like the company website of yours truly, starting from when I received my domain.

What will future generations think of this? It's hard to say since it will be as natural to them as reading a book is to us. But, if they think about it at all, they will be as glad of the Internet as modern historians are for Sumerian clay tablets.