research design laboratory

Beware of the Clouds that are Forming

Over the past few months, the Archinodes team has been hard at work, conceptualizing and designing a personal archiving application that we plan to begin developing later this year. The process has promoted many discussions about the things we collect, how we collect them, and what we do with them.
Just over two weeks ago, southern Alberta and my hometown of Calgary was the site of unprecedented flooding. I watched from afar and waited eagerly to hear from friends and family at home who were affected. My parents live in one of the areas that was particularly impacted by the flood. They had seen flooding before, but never to this extent.
Since then, they've been cleaning up the mess. They live on the second floor so they were spared from the worst of it, but their underground parking lot was entirely under water; their garage and storage unit were submersed.  Here they had stored many memories - art and writing my siblings and I had created as children, diplomas, certificates, and degrees, christmas decorations collected over the years, a chest of my grandfather's tools, the frame of my grandmother's rocking chair we had hoped to restore - the things that you don't use everyday but expect to have forever. There, I too had kept a box of memories for safekeeping. Now gone is an extensive trading card collection, a collection of home movies, live recordings from my short-lived career as a singer/songwriter, and collection of postcards, birthday cards, and letters. 
Taking inventory of the losses raised a couple of questions. First, why did we assume that it was a safe place to keep these things? And second, if these things were important, why did we keep them in a place where they couldn't be used? 
While these things are gone and there's not much that can be done about it, I believe these questions also apply to our digital lives and inform our thinking about a personal archive. Do we assume our Facebook photos will always be there? Why is it so difficult to access things I wrote on Twitter 3 years ago? Where, exactly, are my files being stored? 
The weather can change quickly. Clouds can dissappear as quickly as they arrived.