A few days ago, I plugged in the computer I had when I moved to Chicago back in '98. A 200Mhz Pentium I running Windows 98 w/ 48 MB of RAM, a 3.5" floppy drive and a read-only CD drive. It served me pretty well --I was able to go broadband with it around Oct. 1999, and burned my first mix CD's with it using an external Iomega. I retired it in 2002, and hadn't touched it since then. Recently though, I got to thinking that it'd make for a fun time capsule opening to plug it back in, and see what forgotten photographs, pr0n, mp3's, saved IM conversations, etc. were in suspended animation on its 3 GB hard drive.
It started back up with no problems --the clock even set itself to the correct date, though the time was inexplicably off by about 20 minutes. Found a bunch of old pics, which I'm in the process of transferring to 3.5" floppies (still had a sealed box of Verbatim diskettes --don't know when I got em, but there's no URL's anywhere on the packaging), which I'll then transfer to my current floppy-less machine via an intermediary.
Then I thought I'd start up Netscape Communicator for shits and gigs. This machine isn't connected to my network, so I jumped like I'd seen a ghost when it loaded the cnn.com homepage. Turns out, it was just the cache that was still in memory from April 27, 2002, the last time I'd used the computer. Four settlers had been killed in the West Bank, three people had been killed in a Nevada casino shooting, Bush was pushing for "more authority on trade" and Anna Kournikova's agent was denying that she'd ever posed nude. What I was trying to get at though was four years of archived email, from my old enteract.com account. It was all still there. Spent a good couple of hours on the phone with johntheobscure going over hundreds of emails that we shot back and forth in the weeks following 9/11/2001, reflecting on what was going on in the world and how it impacted where we were living (Boston and Chicago). It's a hell of an archive, containing a lot of forgotten stories, speculation that has come to pass, and a lot more that thankfully didn't.
I'm glad to have that archive, glad that I had a real ISP that allowed me to download all of my email to own computer, instead of an .edu, AOL, or 2 MB hotmail account, like most people I knew had back then, which would've turned out to be a lot more ephemeral. We take for granted that everything on the Internet will always be around, cached somewhere, that google or yahoo or the wayback machine will always be there for us, but that's not the case. Demonstrably not the case --google has stripped DejaNews's Usenet archive of almost all usability, and just last month, Yahoo! --as if anyone needed one more reason to despise them --pulled the plug on GeoCities and along with it millions of pages early web history. It's not like keeping those old sites up was hurting Yahoo; if its got the money for a ridiculous, widely-panned $100 million ad campaign, certainly it's got the money to maintain some of the web's most important early history. The fact that it chose not to, and in fact chose to affirmatively delete it puts Yahoo on par with those who torched the library at Alexandria. Accordingly, I am done with Yahoo. Now to figure out how to download all my other email from its fickle servers.
- The Web, It's Temporary