Archive Fever and its Role in our Memories and Future

Archives are the foundation of most social interaction and is an increasingly relevant topic in a world where the ubiquity of archives heightens accessibility (and inaccessibility) and the way in which our lives are structured. By organising our lives and restructuring them, archives lay the basis for authority and control accessibility.

Derrida notes, however, that archives only appear to have authority and the ability to physically control our lives, but are often hidden in order to “shelter itself and… to conceal itself”. Thus, it is an invisible form of control which structures the information we can and cannot access in our lives. The nature of an archive is to be both authoritarianly transparent and authoritatively concealed.

‘Archive fever’ is an ‘illness’ that plagues contemporary society through the multitude of organisational structures and restrictions we use today. It is defined by Derrida to be having “a compulsive, repetitive, and nostalgic desire for the archive, an irrepressible desire to return to the origin, a homesickness, a nostalgia for the return to the most archaic place of absolute commencement”, something which is prevalent in our world of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. One of Derrida’s main points is that archives have the potential to structure our lives and therefore shape the way in which the future is constructed. Our actions in archiving now have the potential to create a shaky and conflicted structure of the future and ultimately decide what is and what’s not going to be accessible for future generations.

For this reason, Ogle sees it as a great importance for website designers to place more emphasis in organising information from the past rather than simply organising the now, which is the fixation of the majority of modern websites. He believes that the increase in records (photos, status updates, check ins) allow us to strengthen our own mental archives. Thus, digital archives create memory. In Ogle’s opinion this is something that modern internet designers should focus on more heavily.

In my own opinion, archiving is a method of human-kind to distract themselves from their own mortality. By preserving the now, humans – in their own self-absorbed way – find a way of making a memory of them in the present last and thus preserve the idea of them as a person. Thus, with increased access to archiving it is easy to see how a modern ‘archive fever’ has developed with the innate human fear of mortality and their desire to preserve a memory of themselves.

Several case studies show the importance of archives in the maintenance of memories and just how essential it is for these memories to be preserved. The Apartheid Archive Project is a method of gauging and gathering information about the nature of the Apartheid in South Africa and how it had a significant affect on the minorities targeted during this period. This archive, in its restoration of memories, allows us to create individual mental archives and allow us to not forget the social injustice that was done during this time and eventually (hopefully) allow us to resurrect the wrongdoings of this situation. Equally, the ABC’s Beating the Odds archive allows the memory of social disadvantage to remain prevalent within our minds and hopefully, like the Apartheid Archive Project, allow us to fix some of these problems in the future.
Programs such as Omeka now allow anyone to design the web interface needed to create an archive. Thus, a collection of memories created by anyone can be a method of allowing others’ memories to be ‘re-memorised’.


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