I attended some of the digital lives conference at the British Library this week and have been reflecting on some of what I heard.

It's not a new thought but the proliferation of the digital services and devices we use is staggering. Just thinking of my own use over the last nine years or so gave me pause:

2000-2003 I had an email account and access to the internet a work and a mobile phone, but that was about it. I was still using a walkman to listen to music when I travelled and the only real digital things in the house were my CD player and my old PC (which didn't even have a modem).

2003-2006 Digital photos and music. Broadband at home. Started posting to the odd online discussion. I was reading blogs but didn't tend to comment on them. At work we began teaching our
distance learning courses in archives and records management fully online using the University's VLE.

2006-2009 In terms of hardware I use much the same as I did in the proceeding three years (it's just things have become a bit fancier (smartphone rather than a standard mobile, faster Mac etc)). The real change has been the amount of things I do online. I suspect I'm typical in that I was very much a passive consumer of the web in previous years (browsing and online shopping), but since 2006 I've started writing this blog, I'm on twitter, I was on bebo for a while but have switched to facebook (you go where your friends are!), I use Skype etc. The whole web as a platform metaphor has become something very important to the way I communicate both at home and at work.

What struck me when thinking about this is how quickly parts of my life have become digital and how normal that seems. We don't tend to take the long view with technology, but the changes really are remarkable. Similarly I was struck by how much more obvious, clear and easily identifiable my trace has become. We really are leaving parts of ourselves everywhere and I''ve blogged in the past about some of the concerns that raises.

That digital trace is what many of the sessions at the conference were about. What are the ways to identify and capture digital lives for posterity? The legal and ethical implications of that process were also discussed throughout the days I was there. However, what struck me was the self-conscious nature of our digital trace. I write this blog knowing (hoping!) that others will read it. Similarly I use facebook to share things with friends and twitter to communicate in a way that I know is basically public. There is a process of self selection that goes along with all of that which is different to writing a letter or penning a private diary. In a world where vast digital storage means that we can potentially keep everything, does the self-conscious nature of online activity change the way that we approach appraisal or the questions that we have to ask during that process? When private archives are more than a few bundles of letters should we be more selective and more knowing about the self-conscious nature of what we are examining?

Another recurring theme of the conference was that of aggregation (and the difficulties caused by EULAs). If we ignore the legal issues for a moment, it was suggested that because we live our digital lives via a number of disparate and largely unconnected systems then some aggregation is likely to be necessary to represent the digital life of one person. What I'm not clear about is how that changes our notions of the importance of context. How do we preserve the context of something from facebook when it is stripped from its place as part of a social activity and placed alongside a blog post? Similarly, if a photograph is taken from a computer and forms part of a digital collection is something lost where that same photo is ignored in an online environment (because it is a duplicate), but where the context provided by that environment is different (the picture is part of an album with a different name, there are tags attached etc)? Is that re-contextualisation important and if so how do we decide that? Should we be trying to preserve all the contexts which any one digital object may have? Is that even possible?

I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of others on these issues as they were the ones which I kept coming back to again and again at the BL conference. I'm not sure what the answers are, but I am sure that these are questions that should be part of the conversation re archives 2.0.

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