I recently stumbled upon Essays: Archives as Medium , on the web site Old Messengers, New Media: The Legacy of Innis and McLuhan (in turn part of Library and Archives Canada online.) From Lance Strate’s essay The Medium is the Memory:

“The archive as medium is an extension of collective memory, in the service of cultural continuity. Harold Innis argued for the importance of communication over time, which he felt was all too often overlooked in modern societies, which he characterized as space-biased. By this, he meant that we have been obsessed with the speed of communication, the instantaneous transmission of information made possible by electronic media and telecommunications technologies. We have focused our attention on communicating over distance, resulting in what McLuhan called the “global village.” And we have concentrated on the sense of power and control that these new capabilities afford us. We have come to value whatever is newest, to expect novelty and cry “boring!” whenever the steady stream of stimulation lets up; we have become impatient with the minutest of delays, and have come to expect a rapid turnover of content in all of our media.

“In the process, we have neglected, ignored, and even denigrated tradition, history, preservation and conservation. We have become present-minded, and lost sight of the fact that the present ought to be understood as a medium for maintaining continuity between the past and the future. Innis’s “plea for time” was a plea for restoring balance to our space-biased societies. Of course, time-biased societies, such as the feudal societies of medieval Europe, have certain inadequacies as well. But those inadequacies are not our own. And Innis’s aim was not for us to replace a space-bias with a time-bias, but to achieve equilibrium.”

Yes. And this again brings me to the question of access, and how we balance the present against the future in asking: who are our primary users? how do we weigh preservation against access? I believe that is a false dichotomy. They don’t exclude each other. The video documentation that is today used in advocacy or awareness-raising may be used ten years from now as evidence in a legal case, and thirty years from now to educate, to tell the truth about the past. Which is more important? To whom?

There’s much more, and the essays are all brief and readable.


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