Lately I have came across a passage by Eran Kimchi ( The Internet − What Is New in the Emergency of Novelty) discussing the differences between the “old” text (books, newspapers..) and the new ones (internet texts). Here is an amateur translated passage from the book:
Unlike the real world where the text is subject to the hazards of time (pages yellow and rip, cards shred, words carved onto walls crumble with them) the passing of time does not show onto the digital text. It does not matter if the text was written now or a decade ago – its seems fresh to the reader as it is charged with new energy once it is summoned
However compelling this notion of nothing gets old on the internet I would like to propose two reservations:
First, the passage of time shows that this idea of data on the internet as being eternal is not accurate. A clear example of this is the sad story of Geocities, the once famous personal webpage for everyone site that has been shut down by its owner, yahoo!, in 2009. Who knows which of today top websites will be shut down in 10 years and what will happen to the text they contain.
My second point has to do with text that is still there. The text above suggests, each text is kept perfectly and looks fresh every time a user downloads it. However, I doubt that anyone would find sites that have been created in 96 feeling fresh when viewed today.
In many ways this reminds me of how digital space is conceptualized – as a relative notion that has no substance apart from the user’s standpoint. Through this “net archaeology” we can see that the same can be said for time and the concept of decay on the internet (beyond relative traffic decay). Although the text is still as vibrant as the day it was uploaded, to our current eyes it seems decayed and maimed. Old sites seem to be frozen, detached and almost separated from the rest of the internet. This does not only apply to the aesthetic features of the page but also to the way the page is integrated and integrates other site into it (for instance its broken links that are the digital equivalent of pages that have been torn away). Other cues are also evident - archaic contact information (i.e the use of hotmail), the lack of flash or word tags, flashy background, link clutter and so on.
Last note – while writing this and looking at old sites I was reminded of the feeling you get when you hold an old book. If you are unconvinced by this post I suggest you try and think of digital nostalgia like XKCD’s eye-watering Geocities tribute or check out: