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Modes of Preservation


Having launched competing chores of decluttering old files and reviewing past writing, I've noticed how modes of preservation changed over my lifetime. I pull various kinds of typescripts from folder after folder—dittoed or photocopied handouts from different courses I taught, texts of conference papers I once delivered, duplicates of memos and journal submissions and correspondence. Most recent are printouts of email communications, items I somehow needed to physically preserve. The mass of paperwork set aside for recycling makes me feel guilty in a way that creating typescripts and handouts and correspondence never did.


I perhaps overdo preservation of my writing. Since I began using computers, I've stored most of my files first on floppy disks, then on hard disks, then on CDs and DVDs, then on external hard drives. Now, each time I move a file from my "desktop" into a folder on my HD, my laptop asks if I really want to do that, warning I'll remove it from iCloud, an ethereal storage haven maintained digitally somewhere. Wherever it is, it isn't the same place as the desktop BobFolder where all my texts are stored. Why aren't I reassured that work not cataloged in my folders simultaneously exists elsewhere? Would I be the only person able to access them?


Such questions arise because of abundant spam notices arriving in my email. I'm informed daily that Microsoft will cancel my email account if I don't click a specific button. I empty my junk mail and deleted items folders regularly (just digital decluttering, after all), don't get much personal email, so I'm not much alarmed by the prospect of losing the account. But I'm increasingly aware of how much connection I am encouraged—even forced—to have beyond the confines of my home. I searched for step ladders online an hour ago and a half-later an ad for one emerged on Facebook.


We watch television mostly on streaming channels, glad to avoid advertising but often thumb the remote clicker for minutes to learn where we are in the programming. Most programs are always there, not requiring a specific evening or hour for viewing. It's easy now to watch way too much televised programming any time we want. And we do.


I am still a reader and still buy physical copies of books, more often during the pandemic ordering online to get them by mail. I haven't been in a bookstore—or for that matter, a library—for at least a full year (since I've had both vaccine shots and still possess stout masks, I may go in person soon). I seldom read books on my Kindle (a gift), but I downloaded one in about three minutes the other day. Sometimes I'll look something up on my iPhone if I have a question about something we're watching on tv ("How many novels are in the Grace series by Peter James? How many were filmed?") without having to go into the study to search on my laptop.


Preparing to post my reactions to fiction I wrote when younger, I found a typescript of a—to me, memorable—story once published in my college literary magazine. Uncertain if that issue is stored anywhere deep in our clutter, I searched the college website for mention of the journal, found every issue now available online, and downloaded five issues from the mid-1960s with my writing in it, including poetry I'd entirely forgotten. If I had been able to find a physical copy of the issue with that story in a library, I could have photocopied the story to print out on site, then scanned it into my laptop at home. But since it's online, I can view it through the internet, post a link to it on my blog or on my webpage, and make it available to the whole wide world. The whole wide world is not likely to read it, but the opportunity will be there.


My undergraduate library has, for now, preserved the story by physically preserving the issue. A printout of the published copy of the story would further preserve it among my cherished clutter. But do I need to physically duplicate what will be readily available online? Should I download a copy of my own to store in the Cloud? Should I clip a printout of the online version to my old copy of the typescript to file in one of my writing folders?


And what about this blog? Should I create physical printouts of these posts as back up, since I may someday need to copy them to some new mode? What new mode is likely? How long will any of these modes of preservation preserve my writing? How much energy and time should I devote to resisting impermanence?


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