Archiving vs. Saving

As an archivist, the word “archiving” means something very specific to me.  When I say “archiving” I mean selecting records for long-term preservation and maintaining them.  This means that only certain records (ex. documents, images, videos) are selected through a process using defined criteria to make a determination.

As The Deletist I will emphasize an important part of the process: not everything gets saved.  That’s actually the point.  The time, space, and resources are not available to save everything.  When I save everything so that I can restore documents in case of a system crash, I call this a backup, not an archive.

Since receiving my archivist designation, I have learned to accept different interpretations of the word in both my professional and personal life.  For example, when I speak with an IT person using the word “archive,” I know that the interpretation is “save everything, often on cheaper disk space, so restoration is possible if the system crashes.”  The goal, from the IT perspective, is about availability and restoration, which is quite different from that of an archivist.

When I speak to friends who talk about “archiving” pictures or documents, the meaning is somewhat similar to that of an IT person, except preserving everything rather than restoration might be the primary focus.  Numerous reasons exist for why people “archive” so many things.  Some possible reasons might be:

Procrastination – After amassing terabytes worth of data the sheer volume seems daunting, but is not an issue because the storage space is readily available and cheap.

Fear – Sometimes people are afraid to get rid of things for fear of needing them later, or getting in trouble for deleting something erroneously.  Fear of never being able to find anything rarely seems to enter this equation.

TIme – see procrastination. The sheer volume of stuff increases the amount of time needed to go through it, and if space isn’t a concern, why rush?

Indecision – Establishing selection criteria can be challenging. It’s not always easy to decide what to keep and what to purge.  This is a process fraught with gray areas.

Sentiment – We get attached to things for all kinds of crazy and irrational reasons which all seem perfectly valid to the person making the decision.

Today’s lesson:

If you’re going to have an “archive,” be mindful of what it actually means. And if you’re saving everything without any process involved, it’s just backup, or a giant collection of stuff.


Iguassu Falls: Argentina

It’s been a long, cold winter.  I just heard that we’re in for another blast of frigid air so I decided to skip ahead and share a few pictures from Iguassu Falls, a sub-tropical climate.  After Patagonia and before returning home, we went to Iguassu Falls, on the border between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay for a few days.

I thought it would be nice to see something warm and green. The air was humid and fragrant. Butterflies of all colors flitted around.

At the entrance to the Devil's Throat viewpoint, a butterfly fluttered aroiund.

At the entrance to the Devil’s Throat viewpoint, a butterfly fluttered aroiund.

Devil's Throat

Devil’s Throat

Look carefully to see the rainbow. The falls at Devil’s Throat created a lot of mist.

A rainbow created from the mist of Devil's Throat.

A rainbow created from the mist of Devil’s Throat.

And finally, a plush-crested jay, which is basically an Argentine blue jay, but it felt magical to be so close to this magnificently colored animal.

The plush-crested jay.  It wasn't afraid to check out the tourists.

The plush-crested jay. It wasn’t afraid to check out the tourists.

Enjoy!  Just a reminder that Spring is coming!

Digital Photos: Volume

I purchased my first digital camera in 2005.  At the time a friend of mine advised me to splurge on a 1GB memory card for $90.  Now, I could buy a 64GB memory card for the same amount.

The low cost of digital storage, coupled with the easiness of creating content, has changed the dynamic of how we interact with our photos.  As I have mentioned in previous posts on the topic, when I was growing up my parents used to limit the amount of film on our vacations.  I suppose the main reason was the cost, but maybe they just didn’t want large quantities of my crappy pictures taking up space in the “photo drawer.”  This definitely impacted my experiences in the following ways:

  1. I was more careful about when I would take a picture and choosing my subjects.  
  2. I spent less time taking photos.  
  3. I was cognizant of the cost and the effort involved.  
  4. Organizing was prioritized because the photos took up physical space.

The availability of cheap storage and readily accessible picture-taking devices makes it easy to amass large volumes of images.  And it’s fun!  I love being able to take as many pictures as I want of anything.  But I have discovered that going through them later is sometimes less fun, mostly because there is so much content and that somehow detracts from the meaning.  I often feel overwhelmed about how to manage and organize everything.  Finding a starting point can be challenging.

The maintenance of digital photos takes a huge amount of time.  I’m guessing that most people would rather spend the time creating more content, than going through images to weed out the bad ones or organize them.  Sometimes it can be difficult to decide what’s important, or what’s going to be important, and that can also be a deterrent for getting started.  And it’s also not necessary to get rid of things because the space is available.

Here are my quick rules for digital photo management:

  1. Put everything in a folder, or tag it with details (event, location, people, etc.) immediately. Editing and purging can be done later, but I tend to forget critical details if I don’t label things right away.
  2. Make rules about what you want to keep.  Cheap digital storage affords us the luxury of being able to save everything, but sometimes I don’t enjoy spending the time to scroll through 50 photos of a sunset when 2 or 3 images will suffice, especially when bad ones get mixed in.  Not every photo is a winner.  I aim for quality over quantity. 
  3. Select a small amount of photos to organize and purge, something that can be accomplished in 10-15 minutes.  

Happy organizing!


Digital Photos: Experiencing vs. Documenting

Armed with a digital camera, or dorky-looking tablet, I find myself faced with a decision: do I want to fully immerse myself in a situation with all my senses, or document it with the camera.  Taking pictures means I’m seeing everything through the camera and my attention is focussed on taking pictures instead of engaging fully in the event with all my senses.

After thinking about this and discussing it with others, I really don’t have a good answer, only a personal preference.  One Patagonia trip highlight was seeing Magellenic Penguins.  At the time I hadn’t been able to figure out the video on my camera (embarrassingly enough, it was purely user error), so I committed myself to snapping a few pics and then sitting in the boat to observe.

Penguins are incredibly animated creatures, but also noisy and a little bit stinky from all the guano.  I was so thrilled to be near these captivating animals, that I just wanted to fully immerse myself in the experience: the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel of the wind on my face, etc.

I discovered later that my brother had taken several penguin videos which he later shared with me.  I was excited to have the videos because it meant that I could keep enjoying the penguins long after we had left Patagonia.  I mentioned this to my brother and he said “Yeah, but while you were busy enjoying the penguins, I only got to watch them through my camera.”  What can I say, in this situation, I got the best of both worlds.

During almost every hike on the trip, we would collectively take a few moments of silence, without cameras or devices, to just experience what was going on around us.  I think this is a nice compromise.

In future situations, I will continue to document events.   However, I will make a point of not using my camera once in a while to capture the experience in other ways. Some things just don’t translate to the digital world, such as the way something smells or feels or my emotional state.

A new alternative is Google Glass, a product designed to allow users to experience and document simultaneously.  If you haven’t heard about Google Glass yet, get ready.  It’s coming – stay tuned for a future post on the topic.

One of my favorites!

One of my favorites!


Interruption Disruption

Remember when an interruption used to be seen as a disruption?  Now it seems strange to me if I have a conversation with somebody that isn’t checking his/her phone.  It was the kind of behavior that just happened without ever discussing the proper etiquette, or rules, around having a phone with you 24/7.

Public pay phones used to come in booths, or against a wall with partitions around it, presumably to allow somebody to have a private conversation.  What happened to that idea?  All of a sudden it’s acceptable and totally normal to talk on the phone anywhere.  And sometimes it doesn’t even matter if you’re alone or with people.

I wonder if people get annoyed with this behavior and start using other modes of communication as a way to preserve privacy while corresponding. Perhaps this is part of the reason why texting, tweeting, posting and emailing are all so popular. A perk of using these modes of communication is it puts the user in control of when s/he decides to look at a message or respond.  A phone call requires an immediate interaction.  And yet, it seems that electronic messages require a different type of immediacy, which also turns into a type of interruption.

A distracting aspect of electronic communication is all the different notifications. Received messages are often announced by a buzz, a noise, a song, a poke, a chime, a bell, a squeak, a croak, etc.  Or sometimes a light flashes in addition to the sound.  In my opinion electronic corresponding missed an opportunity to be the ninja of communication. Instead it’s like a hungry thing, constantly needing attention.  It could have been silent, but instead it makes noise and flashes to get your attention.  Your immediate attention.

Maybe the rapid pace with which communication happens gives it a false sense of urgency.