The quantum of preservation

In Weibel’s overview (“Cows and the Colussus“) of Mike Keller’s OCLC presentation, one line stands out to me:

(though, Keller also points out that much is likely to have to be recaptured at higher resolution in the future)

This, along with the articles “Image Processing and Software Epistemology” and “Digital Imaging and Conservation: Model Guidelines“, brings to mind some casual thoughts on quantum mechanics.  Often, when you hear someone say, “Observation changes the subject,” they’re trying to be all postmodern and metaphysical on you.  But, much of the time, it’s a bit more prosaic: In quantum mechanics, one observes very small things, often by hitting them with photons or electrons.  Most of the time, photons and electrons don’t seem to do much, but compared to quantum objects, they still have a reasonable size, and they definitely have a high velocity.  Thus, we’re saying that hitting stuff with other stuff will probably change the stuff, possibly in ways that keep you from continuing to hit the stuff with your stuff gun.

Preservation and conservation are even more fun, it seems.  Not only can you change stuff by observing it, you can change it by doing an insufficiently careful job of not observing it.  And, of course, just because you observed it doesn’t mean (as we see above) that we’ll never want to observe it again, but better.  Or from different angles.  Or we’ll want to see the object’s back with special goggles, even though the object’s rights metadata has a huge “no” about that (IT TOTALLY HAPPENS).  And digital objects can get (and take) a lot more wear than analog, especially from digital processing techniques.  But each time we observe, we have to be more careful in our conservation of the original.  In fact, it seems less like “preservation” and more like “temporarily acceptable exposure.”

The quantum of preservation

One thought on “The quantum of preservation

  1. This post complicates my life even more … I’ve always had a problem squaring how digital content could simultaneously be so fragile AND a part of the permanent record (as in “when on the Internet, it’s available forever”). Now I’ve got to add a quantum layer to understand how observation acts play a role??? 🙂


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