We’re all Domed!

Two things I have read today which have piqued my interest. I hope you don’t mind me sharing my thoughts with you on them.

The first is this article I’ve discovered on the Guardian website entitled “Digital Domesday Book Lasts 15 not 1000 years”, written in 2002. In it, they discuss the dire state of the Domesday Project, an ambitious enterprise embarked upon by the BBC and published on “interactive videodisc” in which the “Domesday philosophy” was used to take a look at modern Britain – Britain as it was in 1986. The project was ambitious in scope and provided a wealth of information on that particular point in history (900 years after the original Domesday Book).

It was meant to be a showcase for Britain’s electronic prowess – a computer-based, multimedia version of the Domesday Book.”, intoned the Guardian’s erstwhile journo, “But 16 years after it was created, the £2.5 million BBC Domesday Project has achieved an unexpected and unwelcome status: it is now unreadable

The problem is that technology superceded our best intentions. As the Domesday Project’s own website says, “It was impracticable to consider using CD-ROM alone, because it had, and still has, a limited capacity for pictures and, in any case, we are talking about a time before High Sierra (the original CD-ROM filing system), let alone ISO 9660 and JPEG”, and so they relied upon a combination of video disc and floppy disc. In 2002, we were approaching a point where the thousands upon thousands of words and images captured by the people of Britain in 1986 were on the verge of becoming lost to us – something which, the journalist wryly commented, was not a danger with the original Domesday Book, which some 900 years on was still as hale and hearty as it ever was.

From my brief reading today it appears that the digital Domesday Book was eventually lost to the general public, and can be seen as a “salutary lesson in technology creep”. There are elements of this to be seen in the story of the digital Hengwrt Chaucer. Whilst we are not at a stage where the information obtained from the original manuscript will be lost to us we are well advanced in our own case of “technolog[ical] creep”. I can’t remember the last time I accessed a CD-ROM. In fact, I think the only time I’ve ever used one was when someone gave me a copy of Encarta, which I used on my Commodore 64 (I feel as old as Methuselah – I suppose in technological terms I might as well be).

We have to consider what happens when we digitise these items, what happens once the project comes to an end; we need to keep looking with fresh eyes, ensuring that they aren’t lost to us. And I suppose this also ties in with availability, and who’s using the item; the more popular they are, the better maintained they’ll (hopefully) be. In the case of the Domesday Project the BBC disbanded the original team (which is a polite way of saying they were made redundant) in the early 90’s, and the project appears to have slipped thereafter into a terminal decline.

The second article I read today was on a speech given by Chris Poole, the founder of “hacker website” 4Chan, in which he addressed our concerns about online identity. He said that essentially we’re getting it wrong. “Google and Facebook would have you believe identity is like a mirror” he said, when in actual fact we are multi-faceted, like diamonds, and our online identities should reflect that. Twitter, he says, is getting it halfway right, by allowing us to choose a user name, and to not make anonymity something sinister. We need a “more flexible view of identity”.

I’ve always, quite unconsciously, adhered to the Facebook concept of identity – everything I put online should reflect me, under my name, for good or for ill. However, as I’ve grown older and my professional status has changed, it has become ever more apparent that there is not simply one reflection of me; I am several people, and I need several online identities to reflect that. And not all of them should necessarily be identifiable as me. Why should they, after all?

I was very resistant to the idea at first, however, because it felt like a falsehood. To even imply that there are aspects of my personality that are not fit for general consumption makes me sound slightly sinister, like Mr Hyde or Margaret Thatcher. However, I now have a clear delineation between my private and the professional personas, which I think is fair and healthy – something that Chris Poole would allow us, and Mr Zuckerberg would not. I am a multi-faceted diamond – or at least, that’s what my Mum always tells me.

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