When we stopped using physical photo albums and started putting our holiday snaps on Facebook, who was in charge of making sure those photos did not get lost? Yes, Facebook. Not you, but a faceless corporation. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spend this post shitting on Facebook. I’ve already done that enough and frankly they do not deserve this much attention.
So a few weeks ago, Myspace ‘lost’ a heap of data in a migration project. Most of this was music, so if you were a person using Myspace to promote your band, anything from before 2016 is now gone. If you were a person who used to use Myspace as their main internet-hang (AKA a millennial), there’s also a chance that much of your profile is now in tatters.
Okay sure, this seems unimportant on the surface, but Myspace is a key part of internet history - it makes up several threads of the rich web-tapestry we have today. For better or for worse it is where your online 14-year-old self is stored. It’s where you go when you think ‘wow I haven’t REALLY cringed at anything for a while’. It’s exactly what Shad was talking about when he wrote this love letter to the internet.
But now, because of a ‘mistake’ it basically could be gone. Your Myspace profile was in many ways yours - you created it, you uploaded photos, you decorated it with disgusting, laggy, animated backgrounds. So yeah, it was yours. But not entirely, because the ones ‘looking after it’ went and lost it. Cool, great.
I mean, this is a nowadays equivalent of losing all your possessions in a house fire… Except, they aren’t possessions. It’s definitely more complicated than that. Old online profiles are special. They’re weird little scrap books of who you once were. Intangible relics that cannot be reproduced; impressions of your past self that exist only online.
And that’s the problem, really: online storage. Who’s in charge of it? Definitely someone that is not you. Do they care about your memories as much as you do? No, of course not. The recent Myspace hiccup (burp, fart, whatever) is excellent proof of this. You may want your Myspace profile to just disappear forever because it’s embarrassing, but the point is you should be the one who has control over this. What if your current Facebook profile disappeared tomorrow? That could suck.
Interesting, because we now rely on these online services for convenience. But is it really convenient if they might lose everything one day? Maybe it’s worth paying that price. You can store a lot of media, and share it very easily. IRL photo albums take up physical space, don’t play videos, and yes, can be consumed by fire 🔥
Recent events suggest that using online platforms to store things is less easy and convenient, and more scary and precarious. Last year, Tumblr announced a ban on adult content. Dunno if you’ve ever used/looked at Tumblr but… it was mostly adult content. Tumblr may as well have banned themselves.
What does this mean? Many accounts were suspended or removed resulting in the hugest fan-fiction purge known to man. All those complex, highly detailed alternate universes were just sucked into a void forever. People worked hard to make content for their Tumblr accounts, and others enjoyed consuming that content.
If you don’t believe me, please look at this fan blog about a cartoon you’ve never heard of, full of short non-canonical prose, prompted by the blog’s fans (screenshot below for convenience). The line between ‘adult content’ and all other content is extremely blurry, and that was extremely problematic for many users (luckily not for The Kittens Of Voltron - it’s still there, thank god). But a place like Tumblr was more than just somewhere you could watch Elsa from Frozen and Spiderman have a baby*, it was a platform to people to share their work.
Many Tumblr accounts were suspended without warning, making the purge feel the same as ‘accidental data loss’ but meaner, because it was entirely on purpose. Similarly unjust is this artist who got banned from their own subreddit. Seems that the trade-in for having a platform on which to share your work is leaving that work to the mercy of the platform itself.
Flickr have also recently undergone some changes - free accounts now have a 1000 photo limit. Anyone with a free account had all but their latest 1000 photos deleted in February of this year. It seems as though these online tools and platforms are only ‘extremely useful’ as long as you understand that your meticulously constructed online portfolio could disappear tomorrow in the next ‘cool revamp’. Yep, SO useful.
Whether these kinds of data loss happen by mistake, or as a result of new policies, there is one over-arching reason: total indifference. Who cares about a photo of you at the age of 16 downing a bottle of WKD? Besides you, no one. And handling this data is always someone else’s job.
Even the government - you know, the people who run the country - can’t remember to click bcc when sending an email to hundreds of journalists. Something like this is a hideous mixture of tech illiteracy and a failure to care about the privacy of others.
Going back to Myspace, their statement after losing over 50 million songs was this:
“As a result of a server migration project, any photos, videos, and audio files you uploaded more than three years ago may no longer be available on or from Myspace. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
If you read between the lines, it sounds like incompetence. If you read the actual words they chose to mask that incompetence, it sounds like a wet soppy heap of not really caring. What this tells us is admitting you made a stupid mistake is bad PR, but just ‘not caring’ is totally fine. Somehow.
So where does that leave us? Well, with important data in someone else’s hands. The online tools and sharing platforms we use to store our work and memories are useful and convenient. But in exchange for that convenience, everything you produce is stored somewhere else, precariously teetering on the edge of oblivion.
*The Elsa and Spiderman thing does exist. If you look into it you could go into one of the deepest internet holes in the known universe. This article actually took more 16 hours longer to write than it should have. You’ve been warned.