Digital Artifacts & You
Most of us have a digital life - social media, email communications, texting, video, images, and of course, the boring part, documents and accounts, domain names and other digital assets.
Most of us also, do not keep a clear archive of our activity since there really are no tools widely used to help us automate the tracking of important items in our lives (and our digital lives). Maybe you have one special USB stick or disk that you copy important things onto. Good for you - you’re in the 0.0001% of people who bother.
Email. Email is the most common place to archive your important documents. And that’s bad. Email is really not secure in any sense of the imagination. It’s even worse if that email is up on gmail or another “free” email service. ANY email you send, you have no expectation of privacy, as there is very little “encryption in transit” even is the email is encrypted into your Inbox (and it likely is not encrypted either).
So yes, just relying on Your Documents folder, or a G-drive, an Inbox (or other Mailbox for emails), or even Box, Dropbox, iCloud…
But I Backup my computers…
Good, you’re in the 26% of people who bother. But a backup is ensure two things: 1) you might be able to recover a mistakenly deleted file or three, and 2) you might be able to recover from a broken computer (disk or some such) and get your old operating system running again.
That’s if you have some idea on how to recover your backups. Some apps/services make it easier, but it is a very much a “service your own car engine” kind of operation. Getting it not exactly right, it so much easier than getting it exactly right. There is only one way to get it right, and many, many ways to get it wrong.
Besides, backups are all about the computers that you run them on. The fact that the act of backing up also happens to save your important files too, well, it is ancillary to the task of making sure someone can bring your OS back to life after some disaster.
Whew, my important files are still there!
And the backup software says, see, I saved the system’s 1.8 million files and your 134 important files too!
Backups are not really digital archives. No more than a closet full of boxes with 20 year old bank statements is your financial balance sheet.
Archiving Digital Artifacts
The artifact is being used here to draw attention to the need for a general term which describes any and all digital things which need to be kept track of.
Whether is an image, a video, a document, some account details for some online service, or even cryptocurrencies or NFT Art blobs, digital artifacts implies all of these, not just the ones which might be considered digital assets (as in something that might have a “title” or some proof of ownership).
Clearly, a bunch of bitcoin, keyed in some kind of safekeeping wallet or vault, has some real world value as a given point in time is a digital asset. Perhaps a jpeg image of a bored cartoon simian, some manga girl, a dragon, a robot or some wild scene which could grace the cover of a science fiction novel, all of these things, if they have some non-zero value to two or more humans, they can be described as digital assets.
Moreover, a domain name, like “foo.com” can be valuable as a digital asset. These things can be owned and linked to some identity, you or your family, perhaps your business. And there are trading sites where these assets can be monetized from one owner to another.
Your last will and testament might be an important digital asset. Many US states do not allow a digital only will, but it is really just a matter of time before proper protocols are created and observed by people and service companies to satisfy authorities that the will’s provenance can be trusted.
Trust is at the heart of many of these systems. Trust is hard to mint and tends to be difficult to maintain unless important traditions are observed and laws respected.
We need solutions to a large problem: how do we manage the important parts of our digital life, and keep them for decades, creating a Digital Estate?
The act of archiving can manual, but when it is, the number of people who are willing to do it drops off very quickly. It’s a little like cleaning out the basement or attic, or maintaining an orderly garage or closet. It’s never a high priority now, only then, say at Tax Time, when you struggle to find all the records you need or want.
Automated archives are what we need, a “set it and forget it” kind of system where we can be assured that the important parts are kept safe and secure until we need them.
And it is this digital assurance that personal archiving products have to satisfy - it’ll be there when I need it.