Memories in the Digital Age: Project, Protect and Preserve 

‘Memories in the Digital Age’ was created for Festival of the Mind 2016. The project was led by the University of Sheffield Library’s National Fairground Archive and Special Collections teams in collaboration with Sheffield artist Paul Carruthers, whose creative input was key in conveying current challenges on digital preservation in an imaginative and engaging way. The project examined some of the new technologies and methods available to create and use information in the digital era.

‘Memories in the Digital Age’ uses images and film from the University collections to reflect on the creative process, the development of media from early to contemporary formats and the way new technology is changing how we communicate with each other and create information. Through this thought-provoking installation we hope to open up a debate with the wider community on the preservation of digital information and its hidden risks. The viewer is encouraged to think of the challenges of preserving personal and collective cultural memories, the fragility of digital records, technological obsolescence and their personal legacy to future generations. Ultimately, the aim is to start considering some of the effects of digital information on the future of out cultural heritage.

Paul Carruthers is a long-standing, Sheffield-born artist and designer with over 20 years of experience in lighting, furniture design and manufacturing and fine art practices. One of his best known works is ‘Torches’ on the gate posts at the entrance to Globe Works, Penistone Road. Paul has won several awards for his lighting design including the Lighting Association’s Lighting Show Design Award.

Through my interaction with the materials in the archives my thoughts that we culturally and emotionally develop at a snail’s pace have been reinforced. The media and hardware may change drastically but we have the same wants, needs and desires. These ‘aspirations’ for ourselves and others should be treasured and protected, as it is only at their loss do we fully understand the emotional and cultural consequences.

paul carruthers

Caring for your digital memories

So much of our lives are conducted and recorded in digital format only. It is easy to assume that with the use of phones, cameras, tablets and other devices being so universal, there will be a vast amount of digital content left for future generations. There is a widespread misconception that the digital information we upload to online social media and storage services will be automatically preserved and accessible in the future without the need for us to take action.

Digital content faces a number of risks that threaten the preservation of our personal and collective memories. Access to our photographs, videos and social interactions depends on the availability of the right software, programme or cloud service. The speed of technological change is so rapid, that our digital memories are at risk of becoming inaccessible or even lost forever.

Physical objects such as photographs, films and other important historical documents have often survived through a process of benign neglect over the course of our lives and are gathered together to form invaluable archives for future generations. Digital material will not wait for us to decide to retrieve it in fifty years’ time.

The University of Sheffield Library is taking action to preserve its digital collections, not only through documenting the content they hold, but actively monitoring it to ensure it remains accessible in a world of fast changing technology platforms. This activity is known as ‘digital preservation’.

Reports suggest that up to 1 in 3 people have never backed up their personal data.
How will you preserve your digital life for the future?

Take a look at our quiz:

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Digital Memories Tips (jpg, 26KB)

Further information