There has been plenty of press on how the tracks we leave online are going to haunt us – or at least stay with us – for ever. Much has been written, including at this site, about how the vast wealth of information that gets into the cybersphere puts a complete picture of our lives, good and bad, right out in public. The CBC was running a story yesterday about a Privacy Commissioner report warning that young people, as a result of posting too much information online, are being fired and missing out on job interviews and academic opportunities.
In a change from the usual complaint about online information living forever, the Globe’s excellent columnist Ivor Tossell highlighted the disappearance of online information. Those of us who were surfing the internet in the 1990s will remember being amazed at the wealth of dubious information available at geocities.com. At its height, it hosted over a million pages. Since dubious information rarely supports a successful business model, however, geocities is ceasing to exist this month. Those million pages will never be seen again except through the Internet Archive.
None of us think a service like gmail (which archives seven years and counting of my important and unimportant correspondence) could disappear. But services like that can and will end. I guess it’s up to each of us to decide what amount of backing up we need to do to guard against that occurrence. On the other hand, how much is really at risk? I’ve always dutifully backed up my computer hard drives, and as a result am free at any time to open up essays I wrote in 1997 as an undergraduate student. I’m not sure I’ve ever saved anything of real value.