Adrienne LaFrance writes on the void that is the internet:
The web, as it appears at any one moment, is a phantasmagoria. It’s not a place in any reliable sense of the word. It is not a repository. It is not a library. It is a constantly changing patchwork of perpetual nowness. …
“There are now no passive means of preserving digital information,” said Abby Rumsey, a writer and digital historian. In other words if you want to save something online, you have to decide to save it. Ephemerality is built into the very architecture of the web, which was intended to be a messaging system, not a library.
Culturally, though, the functionality of the web has changed. The Internet is now considered a great oracle, a place where information lives and knowledge is stitched together. And yet there are no robust mechanisms for libraries and museums to acquire, and thus preserve, digital collections. The world’s largest library, the Library of Congress, is in the midst of reinventing the way it catalogues resources in the first place—an attempt to bridge existing systems to a more dynamic data environment. But that process is only beginning.
In the print world, it took centuries to figure out what ought to be saved, how, and by whom. The destruction of much of Aristotle’s work deprived humanity of a style of writing that the philosopher Cicero described as like “a flowing river of gold.” What survived of Aristotle’s writing wasn’t prose, but more akin to lecture notes.