To define an archive in simple terms, it is the organisation of information to be easily accessed for later reference. As humans, we can only remember so much, so I guess the term ‘archive fever’ is warranted when talking about our obsession with archives. Where would we be without archives? I think it’s safe to say that our civilisation would be light years behind technologically. The ability to record information for future reference has been central to society’s progress. As Derrida points out, there would indeed be no archive desire without the possibility of forgetfulness (Enszer, 2008)
Traditional archives of historic importance, as Sharon Howard points out in her article, Archive Fever; A Dusty Digression (2007), are made up of material that was deemed as being important at the time. The restrictions of space mean that obviously not everything can be saved. The important distinction between this type of archiving and the archiving we have today in the digital world is the ability for everything to be archived. Mathew Ogle (2007), suggests that the ‘real time web’ that we have adopted over a relatively short period of time is keeping a constant archive of content without us even realising it. So the key distinction is that everything is being archived, not just content that is deemed important. No wonder Derrida uses the term ‘archive fever’
Historically archives decided what was ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of culture. Some things were kept some things destroyed, thus enabling the generation of the time to depict themselves as they wanted to be seen by the generations that followed. With the rise of the internet, or ‘real time web’ as Ogle puts it, we do not have that same privilege. Jon Stokes (2003) describes the internet as a giant public archive with privately owned Google as its de facto interface. This is a potentially concerning statement if we consider how archives traditionally distinguish what is inside and outside of culture.
Of course a more optimistic approach would suggest that this is a good thing. For the first time in history, we are able to archive everything. Traditionally, archives had authority; they were considered as authentic documents that were the definitive record. With the internet archiving everything, how does this impact on the authority of archives? I think that it can be said that archives will continue to maintain authority depending on their provenance. Official documents will always hold authority over those produced by amateurs; however I think that the internet has promoted archiving for individuals, and I guess archives will only become more personalised as the internet continues archiving records that are relevant to the individuals who created them.
Enszer, Julie R. (2008) Julie R. Enszer (personal blog), ‘Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression by Jacques Derrida’, November 16, <http://julierenszer.blogspot.com/2008/11/archive-fever-freudian-impression-by.html>
Howard, Sharon (2007) ‘Reposted: Archive fever (a dusty digression)’, Early Modern Notes, September 25, <http://emn.sharonhoward.org/2007/09/reposted-archive-fever-adusty-digression/>
Ogle, Matthew (2010) ‘Archive Fever: A love letter to the post real-time web’, mattogle.com, December 16, http://mattogle.com/archivefever/
Stokes, Jon (2003) ‘Reading Notes: Archive Fever’, Ars Technica, June 27, <http://arstechnica.com/old/content/2003/06/130.ars>