Archiving and the Human Instinct

“The archive” is an interesting entity that has become less emphasized in modern culture. Historically, archiving personal information was important to preserve records and family history. But now, archiving has evolved into a concept that occurs automatically due to our technologically-driven lives. In Derrida’s Archive Fever, he claims that “a science of the archive must include the theory of this institutionalization, that is to say, the theory both of the law which begins by inscribing itself there and of the right which authorizes it.” He claims that there is a need for the right to authorize archiving. Authority of archiving is what Derrida is emphasizing, but in Cox’s Digital Curation and the Citizen Archivist,” Cox claims that “Collecting is a basic human instinct.” Cox argues that all humans automatically collect and accumulate things, in this case archivable effects. But the thesis of Cox’s paper describes how archiving is becoming too easy and automatic, due to the digital nature of modern society, making it generally less likely for established archives to acquire personal information.

It seems as though Cox would disagree with Derrida’s idea for a theory of archiving law, because of how archiving is an instinctive human action. Cox also claims that archiving will “always reveals some deeper inner meaning to life’s purpose,” whether you’re rooting through old family photographs, or your current personal bank records. But one thing that both Derrida and Cox would agree on is the public nature of archives, and how the act of archiving transfers from “secret to the nonsecret.” Derrida says that the act of archiving “marks this institutional passage from the private to the public.” Cox would agree with this notion, as he points out that archiving in modern society implies making something public, such as posting once-personal information on public social networks. These social networks, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, institutionalizes your once-personal data and stores it on their own servers. They now have direct access to your “personal” data.

Cox’s ideas about the digital age and modern archiving methods begs the question about archiving and whether the automatic nature of archiving no longer stimulates the human instinct to archive, because now that everything is stored automatically, why put any effort into it?

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