Will we only have *virtual* souvenirs, artifacts and collectibles?

Minnesota Twins in 1965 (click for larger view)

The more I’m involved with online, virtual technologies and those sorts of almost ethereal experiences, the sweeter and more profound it is to hold an artifact in my hands that evokes periods and events in history and sparks memories of these times past.

In 1965, my hometown Minnesota Twins went to the world series after winning their first pennant since they were the Washington Senators in 1933. This was a big deal for a little kid and my grandparents went to the series games and bought (for $1.75) a team-signed baseball actually used in game play.

A couple of weeks ago my dad handed it to me as I offered to investigate its worth and seek an appraisal. It appears to be worth ~$1,000 though it might be “machine signed” and its worth possibly lower.

The money isn’t what matters. When I hold this baseball, memories of being in the old Metropolitan Stadium flood back (and of freezing my butt off watching the Vikings in it during winter in the 1970’s). I went to games, concerts, watched midget race cars fly around the road track surrounding the stadium and more. Listening to games on WCCO Radio (the huge wattage CBS station here) was a ritual…

…and I wasn’t then, nor am I now, much of a baseball fan!

It’s the artifact and its partial representation of an era gone by that means so much to me. The players I looked up to that signed this ball — some of whom I met as a kid like Harmon Killebrew — conjures up memories and puts into perspective how things change and what’s important. In fact, the site where you see the stadium is now the current location of the gignormous Mall of America.

Which brings me to the point of today’s post. I’ve been thinking a lot about virtual, digital and online artifacts (or the lack thereof). Thankfully Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive (and specifically the Wayback Machine) is at least attempting to store representations of our digital and online life…but it’s incomplete (mostly since database driven sites break with the archive methods used) and certainly doesn’t archive virtual worlds like Second Life.

So how will our children and grandchildren be able to smell, hold and delight in old artifacts, souvenirs and collectibles of our current digital age and the one they’re growing up in?  30-40 years from now, what will they be able to hold from Facebook? Twitter? YouTube? Or whatever is the must-use online offering when they’re in their teens and young adulthood?  There are few (or zero) physical artifacts in existence from these and almost all other online offerings and this I find disturbing.

Makes me realize that virtual companies need to create and deliver artifacts: t-shirts, pens, mugs or any other swag that people can — if they so choose — buy and archive for future generations. Otherwise, most of what we’re doing and experiencing will be mostly lost.

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  1. Mark on March 7, 2008 at 11:26 am

    To extend this a little further, consider how little we will leave behind for future historians. Most of what we record is now in digital format.

    Assuming that the storage medium and its data such as a USB drive survive for thousands of years (unlikely) then would the finder even consider that this object was anything other than an ornament?

    Not quite the same as finding a slab with symbols on it http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/14/science/14cnd-olmec.html?hp&ex=1158292800&en=2df2cde237690b78&ei=5094&partner=homepage.
    And certainly no Rosetta stone.

    Of course as caveman discovered, carving a tweet into a rock and throwing it at a friend was not considered a friendly act.

    The photo sites have however been quite good at linking the users with services that can provide books and other physical memorabilia.

  2. csven on March 10, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    I’ve been more or less living the kind of lifestyle you seem to be discussing; I wrote about it a couple of years ago ( http://blog.rebang.com/?p=816 ). But the kinds of artifacts you’re suggesting aren’t the kind I think twice about and which are among the first I dump.

    That baseball? Yes. It has what I’d consider “value” because it’s more than just some tangible components wrapped and stitched together into a recognizable shape. But “t-shirts, pens, mugs or any other swag”? Absolutely not. If anything, that’s exactly the kind of meaningless junk – the kind with which we’ve inundated ourselves and has the landscape sprouting “U-Store-It” facilities left and right – which I’d rather we “leave behind” in the intangible virtual world.

    The transreality stuff that comes out of virtual worlds should, in my opinion, have the kind of embedded worth that gives your baseball understandable value. If it doesn’t then cluttering our landfills (and history) makes no sense, as far as I’m concerned.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.