The “Why” of Personal Archives

Last week a friend and I were debating whether I had lost my mind, archiving articles I had read and enjoyed either in Evernote or as PDFs on my hard drive. His point was simple, and one I have heard made often. “Why should I archive stuff on my hard drive,” he asked. “If I ever want it again, it will be there for me with a quick search on Google.”

His words struck me today as I was going back through a folder of articles about writing that I had culled from the Internet. I wanted to move those onto Instapaper so I could read them en masse in advance of jumping into my first book project, after which I would archive the articles to Evernote and toss the PDFs

So I input the links conveniently saved at the bottom of each pdf page, expecting to call up these articles on the web, just as I had found them originally.

No such luck. Fully half of the articles were either gone, behind paywalls, or only available through a paid archiving service.

Was I surprised? Yes.

See, what really got me started on info-hoarding was my desire to be able to refer to a library of electronic resources even if the Chinese government should pull the plug on access to my preferred sites. Paranoid? Perhaps. But I have lived in China long enough to remember the days when The New York Times, The Washington Post, and dozens of other publications of record were blocked and there was no consistent means around the blockage. The bad old days may be gone, but nobody who understands China is betting that they are gone forever.

I had never really conceived that the information would go away courtesy of the nice people who created it. But it has. Some I have lost because I no longer pay the freight of subscriptions (FT wants $260 per year, Economist $130), some have firewalls (many Department of Defense websites do not seem to like Chinese IP addresses), some have moved (like my International Herald Tribune links) and some are really just gone.

The point of all of this is simple: we provide a lot of links to some interesting (and, for the moment, free) books and book-length works. Take advantage of the price and availability while you can: there is no guarantee, in this age where The Great Internet Enclosure Movement meets the Digital Commons, that any of it will be free for long.

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