The Text we Hold with Technology

A physical representation of an organized gigabyte.

While the means and methods for storage of data become smaller and smaller, the cumulative amount of saved and accumulated text will only increase. Used in its broadest sense, text comprises an almost inconceivably staggering collection of materials. In 2012, I attended a research conference at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, and had a hard time comprehending that library’s holdings (over 147 million items), and of course, that is only a subset mankind’s cumulative total of written works and images.

A few messy megabytes.

Think of the implications of the inclusion of digital data, mixed with smaller physical size and larger storage capacity. No longer does a text need immediate relevancy to be stored or saved. Digital formats afford the opportunity to save and accumulate not only polished works and chosen images, in fact, it is often more difficult to make the choice to delete a digital file than it is to just save everything, backed up on increasingly powerful and small storage devices.

But with this power to save and store, comes the potential for chaos: even if the digital organization is a horrendous mess, it is “out of sight,” and involves no sensory interaction. In its physical form, a few MB worth of documents can quickly escalate out of control. These same documents held via a data storage device represent a very different physical manifestation. But as we continue to digitize our texts to store them for the long term – with some texts never making it to physical form at all – will we progressively lose our panache for all of the sensory delights that physical texts can provide?

Potentially thousands of pages of documents, in one neat little package.

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2 Responses to The Text we Hold with Technology

  1. smyers says:

    I very much enjoyed reading your post. You raise a lot of interesting points: the shift in storage format to digital, the seeminly limitless ability to store everything and anything, and more importantly the question of what the “losses” may be as a result of this shift in storage of information. The last is something particularly troubling to me and something I am working on in my commentary for this week. Thanks for the post. It has added to my reflection on the topic. (-:

  2. joypenner says:


    Very interesting read! Earlier someone commented on the fact that they could never throw out a book. I find that it is far easier for me to get rid of a book, and far harder to get rid of data. Because it takes up so little space, I can hang on to it “just in case.” And yes you are right! I usually don’t have to deal with it. Occasionally, I get sick of the mess on my computer and start purging but usually I get tired of that process and fall back to ignoring it. Books, as much as I love them, take up physical space which I don’t have in my mobile life.


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