Archives: the ingredient for power! [Week 5]

Archives sound like a simple word. But behind that word exists immense societal implications. It changes authority. Identity. Memory. Ability. The way we think, do and perceive.

Andrew lectured on what an archive actually is. Most simply put – they’re mechanisms that store data that can be accessed later on. This could be from tactile documents found in dusty rooms hidden away somewhere, to online collections of data such as ABC’s Open Archives (as provided in course outline), or social media like Facebook. He also talked about many characteristics such as its provenance, how it is distributed, what structures they form or exist inside, and how content is viewed and changed.

I would like to use power (Andrew also mentioned this) as a framework to examine archives and its many aspects. I will also discuss the different ways in which archives can provide it.

Take Malala Yousufzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban last year, for advocating education for females.She uploaded diary entries onto BBC Urdu documenting her experiences as a Pakistani schoolgirl at the age of eleven. She took information, in the form of her memories and identity, and archived it such that the international community could access them. We all could understand the hardships she experienced. When she was shot, a plethora of news archives succeeded in broadcasting her cause around the world. It also succeeded in discouraging a lot of Pakistanis from joining the Taliban.


Archives helped a fifteen year old girl create social change.

Also relating to this theme of power is the phenomena of ‘archive fever’. According to the Steedman reading, it is“the desire to recover moments of inception: to find and possess all sorts of beginnings” . Archive fever essentially is the desire to archive information. Social media encourages the constant archiving of information, such as photos, statuses, shares, and more. The Facebook timeline is a platform that facilitates a scrap-booking of our lives, furthermore promoting our continual uploading of data. It archives the many things that have been typed, shared and uploaded into years and months. Another feature it has is ‘your year in review’, which shows  the most important events that has happened in the year past. Ease of access also enables and sanctions peoples’ archive fever.

Archive fever is already changing our own identities and memories. We may have archive fever partially because of a narcissistic desire to portray ourselves positively. In this article about ‘facebook depression’, users were said to have become depressed after using the social networking tool. The piece compared the website to a “gigantic scoreboard” of how people were doing socially, and described how students were reacting to this. Students were becoming depressed.

People’s lives are archived such that their identities are compared to each others. Memories are being manipulated so that we judge the value of each one (through likes, comments and shares). Facebook also isn’t totally realistic in the lives it represents – people post photos of the club they’ve been to, but not something mundane like putting on socks. Students could have been depressed by comparing their own real world identities to the glorified ones online. As a result, people’s self identities and perceptions would also change.

Transitioning to something less gloomy, digital archives enables us to constantly be in contact with the present. In Ogle’s Archive Fever: A love letter to the post real-time web he talks about how web has become real-time and that we have been distracted by “the Now”. Although Ogle does note that it is problematic that digital archives only exist to capture the present, not the past, it is indicative of how fast and updated archives are. A moment occurs, and only seconds later it is shared with the globe through twitter, instagram and other devices.

When the US Airways flight 1549 crashed in the Hudson River

When the US Airways flight 1549 crashed in the Hudson River

What I thought is really cool is this music video.  It’s a live music clip which displays its lyrics from portions of the most recent tweets uploaded:  If it doesn’t work, you can see a recorded version on YouTube.

Okay so you’ve heard me say the word power over and over again. Power power power power power. Get a thesaurus, you say! But as a word, it implies an immense force…a sort of strength. Archives give us power – for social change, to  be connected, to easily upload and share information. But it also has the power to change our memories and identities. They are so vital to our lives I can’t imagine a life without them. At this very moment I’m checking facebook and listening to songs on soundcloud.


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