In a nostalgic haze the other month, I decided I wanted to see Brian Henderson’s final news broadcast from 2002 again. Not having taped it myself, I figured there’d be a copy of it somewhere on the internet. You know, the internet? That giant information system that’s wrapped itself around the world and puts westerners in touch with the middle east, torrenters in touch with Al Gore’s and Jeremy Clarkson’s ideas, and me in touch with my brother a thousand kilometres away?
Well, as it turns out, it looks like exactly one guy ever really had it up for the internet to see. He ran a small weblog that posted random items from Australia’s televisual history in downloadable video form, including at one point Hendo’s last bulletin.
And now it looks like exactly nobody has it. Not in plain sight for anybody to download via HTTP at any rate; most Google results still link to that one blog post, and Wikipedia’s article on the man himself hovers near the top.
Frankster’s archive is gone, now, as of today. From what I remember from reading his final post last night, he’d basically been hacked, and his site redirected to point at some Russian forum full of viruses. Combined with getting his TAFE paper and a wish to get into commercial projects, he had to abandon the project and move on. Inevitable, I guess, but a complete shame.
The way I see it, the internet is our way of preserving and future-proofing our contemporary information, and as much historic information as possible as well. Unlike our personal memories, or meals, or bookshelves, information on computers is stored – you’ll be bored by the end of this paragraph – in digital form that can be reproduced, completely without loss, without cost and at a moment’s notice to a thousand other locations, effectively making it impossible to misplace, eat or otherwise destroy. Even if your hard drive dies – it’s happened to half of everybody I know in the last 10 years, including the owner of my PC repair workplace – your photos, your music collection, your emails and personal notes and deepest darkest secrets can still be retrieved from elsewhere.
Every week at work, someone comes in with a laptop and a forlorn expression and a story about how their 16 year old just installed Windows over the top of some financial records and correspondence, and would we mind terribly much to try recovering some of it for them. I match their forlorn expression, and take down their details, and a couple of days later call them with the bad news. Then I shake my head and wonder how anybody could let it happen.
Seriously, people. Go buy an external hard drive – 500 gigabytes of space should set you back about $200 $150, and will cover the entirety of your personal unlosable data, and that of your family, and your friends, and probably everyone else on your street. Get everyone else to do the same, and then get everyone together once a month – surely you already meet your neighbours twelve times a year out on the street – and swap CDs with them, and go home and copy the contents to your backup drive. When your computer explodes, go next door with a pot of tea and a flash drive and mutter with your neighbours about the bother of claiming insurance on your electronics.
If you have no friends or family, you’ve still got the internet; online backup services exist, many of them completely for free. Don’t tell me you couldn’t trust anybody else with your private things; instead of keeping high school love letters in trick puzzle boxes, scan them in and put them in a TrueCrypt archive before burning them to CD for the swap meet. It’s completely free to do that, and the only way you can lose your encrypted backups is if you forget the decryption password (which also means that your secrets die with you, because nobody else can read them without that same password).
When G-block at my old high school burned down five or six years ago, we didn’t just lose four classrooms. The room at the end was storage for the history department, and we lost some original letters written by soldiers to their families during the first world war. Rock beats scissors, fire beats paper, and nothing at all beats the steady march of time.
Actually, I’m lying: Time beats time. Time magazine’s person of the year 2006 was an excellent choice, and we’re starting to heed the lesson.
I’m also lying when I said nobody has Hendo’s last broadcast. It was added to YouTube on the 10th of July, 2008, and you can see it here. I had tears in my eyes by the end of it – obviously because of the memories that came flooding in from years before, but also because I was one of those lucky few in this world: I got my data back, along with all my hope.
I want you to be the same, and if you’re reading this at your computer, there’s still hope. Future-proof your information, right now, or I’m going to call you back and tell you we did what we could, but the hope is all gone.