Preserving our physical past & our digital present.

This is my dad’s mother’s family (aka my grandmother). She was one of 12 brothers & sisters.

Lauren and I went to Michigan this last weekend to see my parents and celebrate my dad’s birthday.  Saturday evening, my mom pulled out a scrapbook to show me this amazing work that she’d been doing mapping the genealogy of our family with what she could find online.   And it wasn’t just a map of the family tree.  It brought in the pictures that we had from boxes that we found in my grandmas’ basement, along with the stories they had told us.

It was amazing to sit and listen to the cohesive narrative about how my ancestors immigrated to the United States from England and Germany.  It made my imagination run wild thinking about what my ancestors might have been like and what kind of experiences they had.

I also started to reminisce about my days at the Library of Congress.   Everyday I got to interact with the people whose job it was to preserve world culture and make it accessible for generations to come.

While it was a government agency that was filled with bureaucracy that’d make you wanna pull your hair out, there was something truly magical and noble about what they have to accomplish. They had whole groups of people whose job it was to digitize print materials into formats what would allow them to be accessible infinitely in the future.    They had created these incredible machines that could scan incredibly old books and images without doing any damage to them.

It all makes me wonder how many people are taking the time to trace their roots and preserve all the documents and photos from their past.  I want my future children to be able to know where they came from, hear the stories, and see the photos.  I’m so glad thankful for the genealogy work that my mom’s doing and that my dad writes so much of his story on his blog.

Another thing my parents had been doing is going through all the old photographs, scanning them, and uploading them to Flickr.  We had been using Flickr as a bit of a repository, with over 10,000 photos up their currently.  We figured, just incase the house burned down, the photos would definitely be safe. I’m surprised there aren’t more startups that are creating business models around helping people preserve the past.

Then the other question is… who’s going to preserve our present?  When I was growing up, I learned a lot about American History by looking through old Time Magazine covers with my dad.   It was amazing.  But… how am I going to be able to teach my future children about this current election?

What system will be in place?  Will Wikipedia be the place we go to learn about the past?  How will they be able to see & read what was on the front page of the New York Times on Election Day 2012?  I know there are projects like the Internet Archive but are they enough?

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