The Digital Landscape: What You Really Need to Know, Paul Conway, Duke University
The goals of this session were to provide a broad overview of the “big picture” of digitization, including recent successes and future challenges.
In terms of the “big picture”, the current situation is that 93% of all new information is digital information (much of it email). Largely because of this, while information density is expanding exponentially, the life expectancy of information is simultaneously decreasing at an alarming rate. Conway reminded us that the binary mathematics (series of 1’s and 0’s) that lies at the heart of all digital technologies is actually quite old, having been invented by von Leibniz in the 17th century. The technology and the technological infrastructure are, then, quite stable, but the ways in which humans are using technology are changing rapidly, and are primarily oriented toward the creation of profit. This lack of attention to the long-term, humanistic uses of technology is, from Conway’s perspective, the fundamental problem of the digital world.
It was Conway’s charge then, that creators of digital information emphasize the need for preservation of data, be it born-digital information or original archival objects that have been photographed or scanned. The mantra of digitization should be “access is a given, preservation is the mission”. Indeed, the strong need for preservation of digital objects was perhaps the single-most frequently discussed topic at School for Scanning.
Conway cited a number of successes in the conceptualization of a digital world in which information is more stable and of a higher quality. In the ten years that the world wide web has existed, a great deal of research and development on quality digitization has been conducted (web publishing is well-understood and institutional repositories are coming into existence); best-practices manuals have been developed for many types of materials; information architectures have advanced with the support of numerous national governments; and an environment of international collaboration has emerged. Application of this conceptualized world to day-to-day practices is the necessary next step.